Hudson County bears the name of a hardtack-nibbling English explorer whose fed-up crew set him adrift against his will, designs that state Senator Brian P. Stack (D-33) and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop now have on the political career of Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, who – unlike Hudson – insists on laying claim to a pair – not an entire crew – of mutineers.
But in this modern case, however cutthroat, they’re a powerful pair. Indeed, Hudson was still shaking off a Sinking of the Lusitania-sized Jersey Journal front page when reporter Terrence McDonald interviewed DeGise and posted the result on Twitter – a contemporary diatribe that hardly has a quill pen feel to it. One could never confuse DeGise’s soliloquy with even those imagined final written rowboat-bound words of the Elizabethan era-educated Hudson.
Did DeGise feel betrayed by Fulop, whom the affable county executive endorsed last year?
His answer? Hell, yes, emphasizing the handcraft of a couple of especially loutish sailors on a deck of otherwise gentlemanly able-seaman, according to the county executive.
DeGise wants this to be an isolated incident.
Two bad apples below decks.
Richard Harris in Mutiny on the Bounty.
But Stack and Fulop see new frontiers.
They see a newly charted course for Hudson.
The whole evolving episode shouldn’t surprise.
The young lions for years have been pawing at the gates of a Hudson takeover; deprived of drama, shown up by the likes of Union – of all places – Hudson County insists on its own re-measured horizons.
But there is a shifting history here that bears reexamining.
Tormented by George Norcross III in 2016, Fulop appeared to finally zero in on the vulnerable-looking DeGise for a big serving of public payback when he joined forces with Stack and issued a joint “time for another direction” statement ahead of the county executive’s 2019 reelection bid.
Giving credence to DeGise’s “it’s just those two troublemakers again,” U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said he didn’t appreciate the timing of a sudden sprung civil war. “I am personally outraged that something that isn’t even going to take place until next year is erupting in the year in which we have national elections for the senate, congress that we should be focused on so that we can take our country back,” Menendez said.
That’s a predictably nationally focused statement, but the Senator might also have a more immediate particular parochial interest, namely Bayonne, where he personally went all in with incumbent Mayor Jimmy Davis, who’s running for reelection in May of this year against a challenge by former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell (D-31).
That’s 56 days from now.
Like Menendez and the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), DeGise backs Davis over O’Donnell. Now that Stack and Fulop have declared their opposition to DeGise, might their war-footing energies spill into an endorsement of O’Donnell? Menendez bemoans a war scheduled for 2019, but if that offends, why not – or so must run the reasoning in Stack and Fulop worlds – push the date up to May, and make Bayonne the Trafalgar to 2019’s Austerlitz? Certainly the Jersey Journal headlines reflect that level of intensity, even as Davis allies to be sure – don’t crave a full-blow conflagration and reinforcements for O’Donnell.
But if DeGise appears to genuinely like his friends in the HCDO, the relationships of Stack, and the relationships of Fulop, with the establishment – that individualized grammatical construction is necessary lest someone mistake the pair for cemented allies – always bore a core of really little more than pragmatic politics.
Suckled like Romulus and Remus in the Bill Musto Empire, Stack and Menendez parted company organizationally early, with the latter famously donning a bullet proof vest to oppose Musto, and Stack – after pressing an adolescent nose against the window of Musto World – finally inheriting the local kingdom.
Political fate would realign them. But their atmosphere was always more about respect than deep abiding friendship and social affinity.
Fulop, for his part, of course, ran against Congressman Menendez in 2004. They later formed an uneasy peace, tested when Fulop prepped a 2016 gubernatorial run. Menendez and company were irritated with Fulop for aborting a scheduled statewide run. Fulop and his allies were bothered by Bob getting in trouble with the feds and muddying matters. At precisely that time when they should have been unified against an always-well organized South Jersey Democratic Party machine, they were at each other’s throats. While Stack later dutifully went to the courtroom to show support for Menendez during his darkest corruption trial days, the Senator scanned for and failed to find the same show of obeisance from the Jersey City Mayor.
Then there was state Senator Nick Sacco (D-32) of North Bergen, a stout DeGise ally and that half of a North Hudson political division that had long pitted him against Stack.
Fulop brought them together: Stack and Sacco, ironically around the 2015 reelection of DeGise.
Sacco had quietly backed Fulop for mayor in 2013 (or at least stayed out of the fray) even as others in the HCDO, namely DeGise , went with incumbent Jerry Healy. With Fulop newly installed as mayor and a natural alliance at work with Stack (Stack’s chief of staff Mark Albiez went to work for Fulop), Hudson appeared peaceful, or to borrow Augie Torres favorite Orwellian-sounding HCDO word, “unified.”
Sacco was probably never happier politically than at that time, as he had his own district ward, Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-32) serving as speaker of the General Assembly as part of a deal Sacco personally orchestrated with South Jersey.
It all went south – literally – when Prieto ran afoul of South Jersey, his political lifespan truncated too by Fulop’s quest for the governorship against the equally ambitious Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3). AFL-CIO Prez Bill Mulen – a Sweeney ally – said at one point that Fulop was using Prieto in a war with South Jersey to land a statewide upper-hand for governor.
Sacco and DeGise and Prieto and Menendez and all those HCDO types were all set to go for Fulop for Governor.
Then he didn’t run.
They felt like they had put themselves on the frontline long enough for the score-keeping Norcross and Sweeney to see them loading their muskets for Fulop.
Then the commander aborted a frontal attack on Drumthwacket.
It was irritating.
Sacco didn’t like it.
Neither did Menendez.
But they choked it down.
Sacco also accepted the inevitability of Prieto’s departure from leadership – not because of what happened with Fulop only, but because of other factors, too. Still, ill will with Fulop lingered.
The senator from North Bergen backed Stack for HCDO chairman on the strength of Stack’s strong 2017 elections performances.
Stack was so strong that whatever he wanted looked like smart politics.
Still, though, the seeds of acrimony remained; with Stack, going back to all those wars of a decade following the Union City senator’s rout of Sacco’s 2007 effort to contain him; and with Fulop.
They were there for Stack, too, under all the attempts at civility over the past two or three years.
Sacco had become an enemy of the South, and lost his chairmanship over the Prieto debacle.
Stack was a friend, going so far as to transport buses of allies down to help Sweeney last year.
Fulop probably had one more big run in him and had to think about the future.
Stack had the numbers.
90% of Jersey City.
Union City solid.
Hoboken in with him.
Stack looked like the future; plus, the mayor had made the Jersey City mayor’s life significantly easier by organizing for him in the Heights when Fulop ran for reelection last year.
Brian wants support?
It only made sense for Fulop to throw in with him.
If Stack was going to take over the county, he wanted his own blueprint for Hudson, and his own county executive.
Ironically, Stack’s relationships beyond Hudson County- starting with Sweeney – put Fulop in a position of potentially invigorating and empowering precisely those politicos – Sweeney and Norcross – he had personally opposed in his statewide quest for governor, and taken Hudson to war with in the lead up to 2017.
Stack empowered meant Sweeney empowered, or so it appeared.
Sacco’s version of the HCDO never included the expectation of Sweeney getting an endorsement for governor. In fact, the North Bergen supposedly had a breakfast meeting with Phil Murphy scheduled the week Fulop went belly-up, and with him Hudson’s hopes of reasserting statewide power in the Sacco-Prieto iteration of the HCDO.
Now it was Stack’s turn.
And that included strong South Jersey ties at the outset (but then they always do start that way).
Stack operated with the understanding too of Sacco having to facing reelection as mayor next year in North Bergen, where businessman Larry Wainstein likely posed another stiff challenge to the empire. Sacco would have to focus on that, and likely ultimately wouldn’t want the encumbrance of a countywide-struggling DeGise.
For the moment, DeGise tried to keep at bay all those external forces suggesting it was little more than two snot nosed kids with pop guns.
But it was clearly more.
It was volatile.
One could call around for quote but by now Fulop or DeGise or Menendez or Stack or one of their retainers would offer some wholly predictable Hudson version of a William Randolph Heart soundbite like, “Remember the f-cking Maine!”