Trenton Turmoil Rebounds In Bergen

Adam Alonso’s departure from the front office as deputy chief of staff apparently put him on a trajectory to vie for a presumed chairmanship vacancy at the Bergen County Democratic Committee, or so figured Murphy World – or part of a fractured Murphy World.

But that came as news to proud Bergen Democrats.

Well, Alonso had the Governor with him, Governor Phil Murphy.

Doesn’t that count for something?

If not something of real political significance?

But they already had a chair, and he was presumably running for reelection in June. Had done a good job, too, for years. But no, no. He was going. Sports and Exposition Authority. Done? It seemed like it, or close. Sources said they had been soothing that along for some time.

So the seat – come early June – would be ready for Alonso, right?

Uhhh.

No.

Not exactly.

Bergen is the Florida of New Jersey, or was before Bergen County Democratic Committee Chairman Lou Stellato turned it around in the Christie years and made it practically a perennial blue bastion. Yes, Alonso had been on the ground in late 2016 helping to engineer – according to the directives of chief architect Brendan Gill – a strategy to take Bergen out from underneath Stellato, who by all appearances was an early backer of Murphy rival Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. Alonso had been Gill’s field general in Bergen, and he did a damn good job, too, according to those who saw the endorsement of the Paramus Mayor as the beginning of the end of anyone in that gubernatorial cycle whose name wasn’t Murphy. He was a real talent. An up-and-comer.

But…

But Stellato had been mayor of Lyndhurst, and was an old school relationships builder.

He was a leader.

“He’s got a huge ego,” a source told InsiderNJ, “but you can’t ever question the guy’s ethics. He hasn’t taken a dime from the party.”

In an era of patronage politics run amok, Stellato ran a family funeral parlor.

He was the last of a dying breed.

While everyone around him was becoming mummified by politics, he actually buried real bodies.

For a living.

Now Alonso would teleport in because Murphy wanted to give him a landing zone?

That would be a gross miscalculation, multiple sources said in the aftermath of the news.

There were some horror stories about internal conflict in the front office. Ok, so they were new. But they seemed real. Chief of Staff Peter Cammarano in the early going had been having some difficulty with Gill, who was on the perimeter, and Alonso was Gill’s guy in Trenton. Then again, Alonso wasn’t frequently in Trenton, at least not as often as others. He was Murphy’s trail hand. He was with the Governor out on the road. That meant some of the festering situations back in the office sometimes went into the hands of others.

There was no one thing.

But there were some things.

Sources said Petra Gaskins – who comes from Bonnie Watson Coleman world – clashed with Derrick Green, the Governor’s senior adviser for diversity. Gaskins was unhappy- and no one in the upper echelons of the administration was doing anything about Green.

If lawmakers complained about Cammarano chewing their heads off in the backrooms of the statehouse, others chafed under Alonso’s attitudes internally.

But still, Murphy liked him, trusted him.

Murphy stood by him.

Maybe he wasn’t going to be a good long haul fit for the government side, but he’d be good back where he did that early damage for the fledgling candidate: in Bergen.

If there were concerns about his management style not being right for an office setting, that was because he was never meant for that world anyway, his allies said.

He was a field hand.

So if Stellato was going to finally ride into the sunset by going to Sports and Expo, Alonso could supplant him as chairman with the Governor’s fingerprints all over him to eradicate any lingering local doubts about him.

The effort came with some urgency too, for if state Senator Brian Stack (D-33) – who was close to Murphy rival Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) – was making a move on the chairmanship of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), and Senator Nick Scutari (D-22) – close to Sweeney – was already installed in Union, the Governor needed to Bergenize.

Murphy ally Passaic County Democratic Committee Chairman (and State Party Chairman) John Currie couldn’t be left all alone up there.

Currie-Stellato could be Currie-Alonso.

Stellato issued a statement today saying he’s not going anywhere, amid sources muttering about him running again in June then leaving the organization in the hands of old pal Bob Pachico of Leonia.

He must have meant it, right?

Surely Lou wouldn’t sign off on handing the county off to… a kid?

Or would he?

The three senators, when they heard the news, went “WTF,” a source told InsiderNJ.

Alonso?

Murphy wanted it, apparently.

But municipal chairs – a substantial number of them – likewise went WTF.

Bergen Democrats have a culture epitomized by someone like Stellato – or Bergen County Executive Jimmy Tedesco.

Would Jimmy want…

No. No. Tedesco was running for reelection. Period.

So Bergen party members started hitting the phones late Friday.

Calls went to Paul Juliano.

Someone even went to Juliano’s home.

Rang the doorbell.

Someone else pulled him out for a late night meeting.

“Paul. Paulie…”

This was a guy from Fairview, the longtime Fairview Democratic Party chairman and head of the Department of Public Works in Fairview. Working class guy. Democrat. Ok, so he had moved his family to Woodcliff Lake. That was so his kids could get a better education, he said. This was a guy who could put together a breakfast for 500 people, party types.

That was better than the 100 people who turned out to Murphy’s town hall on Thursday evening, a bust, according to multiple sources, who said Murphy World had expected 500 people there.

Well, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka had a debate that night. That diminished attendance. Also, Scutari had an evening event that became a memorial service of sorts for the late Assemblyman Jerry Green.  That diminished attendance. And East Orange Mayor Ted Green had an event, and that diminished attendance, and so on. Murphy World blamed the Essex County apparatus. They should have had butts in seats. The county said the governor’s advance staff was at fault. We didn’t know we were supposed to get people here. The finger pointing went on into Friday night.

Juliano, conversely, packed ’em in.

“But Lou says he’s running,” a source insisted late, while another player said if Stellato goes the job will go to either Juliano or Todd Sherer, the Mahwah municipal chair. Strong edge Juliano. “It won’t be a bloodbath,” he added, underscoring it would be one of those two options if only to prevent Alonso – revealed at a Friday afternoon staff meeting in Trenton to be departing northward – from safely landing in his beloved Bergen.

The Governor, apparently, saw it differently.

It was volatile.

*Editor’s Update: By Saturday morning, sources said Alonso would not, in fact, pursue a run for Bergen County Democratic Committee chair. It was over. 

 

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