Stack can’t Save Torres on Hudson County Freeholder Board


The cold war between the two most powerful Hudson County warlords got a little hotter this week as the Hudson County Democratic Organization apparently decided not to support the reelection of Freeholder Joel Torres.

Torres is seen as a strong ally of State Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack, and his removal may be yet another act of vengeance against Stack for having tried to take over the Democratic machine in Hudson County in 2018.

“Joel was a Stack pick three years ago,” said one prominent source. “He did whatever Stack wanted him to do and some of the other mayors weren’t comfortable with that.”

While there were other players in the so-called 2018 coup against Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, most of those are too powerful to get even with in particular Stack, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla.

“Joel when he came on did not get the kind of committee assignments that would allow him to build a network,” another source said. “He was seen as Stack’s man on the board.”

One excuse for his removal, of course, will be the fact that Torres has over the last three years voted against some administration proposals. But as several sources pointed out, other freeholders such as Bill O’Dea voted against the administration much more often and spoke out less frequently against the administration in public.

Torres came to the Freeholder board in 2016 from the politically troubled Jersey City Board of Education and was glad to get the lifeboat. But he may not have a political future if the HCDO goes against him.

The argument being made by some insiders on the HDCO is that Stack already got his picks for county register, a county undersheriff, and the recent replacement for Tilo Rivas as freeholder.

But the move is also seen as another sign that the endless warfare between Stack and state Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco has heated up.

“This is a slap on the wrist against Stack,” said a third source. “Torres is vulnerable.”

County Executive Tom DeGise, Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis and Sacco all opposed Torres.

Because Torres is seen as a Stack guy, even Jersey City Mayor Fulop did not come to his defense.

But Fulop also appears to have mended political fences with Sacco and is apparently willing to let Sacco pull the HCDO strings in order to keep them from opposing Fulop in next year’s municipal race.

Although Fulop and Stack were once allies, reports suggest that the failed attempt to get Stack named as chair of the HDCO in 2018 may have caused permanent damage.

Some believe – as apparently Stack does – that Fulop did not do enough to get out the committee vote on Stack’s behalf.

Only two freeholders over the last three decades have won reelection bids when opposed by the HCDO – O’Dea and Anthony Romano.

Both O’Dea and Romano have powerful political machines. Torres would have to rely largely on Stack – whose legislative district encompasses half of Jersey City but would not likely have the clout to beat the HCDO.

Torres faced with such opposition may choose not to run.

The HCDO will be announcing its endorsements shortly.

Freeholder Anthony Vainieri, who is likely to face no opposition, raked in cash at crowded fundraiser in West New York – anybody who is anybody in Democratic politics attended, although some questioned why the event was held at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday.

Stack and Bhalla also failed to get their way in the Hoboken freeholder seat currently occupied by Romano.

They apparently would have liked Hoboken Councilman Michael Russo to get the HCDO support over Romano.

But Stack and Bhalla have different reasons.

Stack dislikes Romano and has worked well with Russo in the past.

Bhalla, who has an uneasy alliance with Russo on the city council, would have liked to bump Russo up to the county and get to pick a more reliable Bhalla vote on the council. While Russo more or less won reelection last year without opposition from Bhalla, Russo is known to play both sides against the middle, giving his vote to whatever side he sees as politically advantageous.

Bhalla managed to get only one of his candidates elected to the council last year. This positions him badly for the 2021 election when he will face reelection.

He won in 2017 because Hoboken under his predecessor, Dawn Zimmer, had illuminated runoff elections, allowing him to win in a field of five candidates with less than 50 percent of the total votes cast.

His political opponents successfully got the runoff elections restored. This will force Bhalla to come up with more votes or find a lifeboat of his own, perhaps to higher office.

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