Torres’ Revenge: Speziale Albatross Flies in the Face of 2010-Cemented Political Alliance with Berdnik (UPDATED!)

Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh and 6th Ward Councilman Al Abdelaziz

The year was 2010 and the Passaic County Democratic Party faced a gaping wound with the evacuation from his reelection bid of then-Sherifff Jerry Speziale.

Or so it looked at the time.

The Tea Party was in full battle gear and Democratic incumbents felt very jittery, even in supposed Democratic strongholds.

Combine that with the fact that Chris Christie had kicked Jon Corzine out of office a year earlier – and picked up power in Passaic – and it looked like a deepening crisis.

Out-sized personality Speziale was supposedly the equivalent of Bruce Springsteen with a badge, and his defection (he went to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey) had Democrats reeling.

The phone was ringing off the hook at Hawthorne Chevrolet, all calls going directly to the glass cubicle of Passaic County Democratic Committee Chairman John Currie.

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9) was among those calling.

They needed a candidate to replace Speziale.

Pascrell was at the top of the ticket and he didn’t want the GOP to gain ground in their calculatedly bid to grab Latino votes out of Paterson with the candidacy of Undersheriff Felix Garcia.

Together, Currie and Pascrell came up with stop-the-bleeding candidate Clifton Police Lieutenant Richard Berdnik.

Berdnik acquitted himself favorably in a circus-like debate with Garcia at Passaic County Community College and – with Pascrell leading the party – would go on to win the sheriff’s position.

Even in their darkest hours together, worsened in the storm that dogs them in the aftermath of the freeholder tossing the congressman’s son out of the county counsel chair, Pascrell and Currie never forgot the step-up readiness of the low-drama Berdnik, who in the ensuing years provided just as much colorless competence as his predecessor had generated trapeze-gyrating pizzazz.

“The congressman would never throw Dick under the bus after what happened that year,”  a source told InsiderNJ as Speziale, back in town after jailed Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres restored him to a law enforcement job as a way of sticking it to Currie back in 2014.

The irony is that sitting Mayor Andre Sayegh, Torres’ arch-rival, now has the albatross of Speziale around his neck – the parting revenge shot from the recently let loose former mayor.

The source said the powers that be need to make it clear to Sayegh to make it clear to Speziale that if the former sheriff wants to keep his police director’s job he’d better stay out of county politics. There could be legal trouble with that kind of muscling, however, so “everyone’s being very careful with Jerry right now” in the tick down toward Monday filing deadline.

But Speziale’s inability to capitalize on the rift between Currie and Pascrell – mostly on the strength of both men’s enduring appreciation for Berdnik and their mutual irritation with Speziale over his Christie era bail out on the party – make it less likely today than it did at the start of the week for Torres vengeance play to go anywhere.

People were placing bets on Speziale’s “will he or won’t he” Democratic Primary play, but the smarter money late lay with him folding out of his game of countywide footsie.

UPDATE: Indeed, Speziale folded formally in a statement on Thursday.

This photo of Sayegh endorsing Berdnik (with Currie sternly looking on) made the social media rounds on Wednesday night. Saygeh told the police director he was done locally if he went against the party countywide.



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