The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 164 endorsed Republican Henry McNamara for Bergen County Executive in 2002 at the request of Democratic powerhouse John Lynch, according to Richard “Buzz” Dressel, the business manager for the local. Lynch, a former Senate President, is now serving a 39 month sentence after pleading guilty to federal corruption charges.
If there is contest to replace indicted Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero, Dressel is expected to face off against Michael Kasparian, a real estate developer and Democratic fundraiser with ties to Ferriero. Dressel says the IBEW’s endorsements of McNamara and GOP County Clerk Kathleen Donovan won’t hamper his ability to replace Ferriero. He says the union was backing McNamara because he was stronger in his opposition to the Xanadu project than the eventual winner, Democrat Dennis McNerney. And he says even Ferriero tried to get Donovan to seek re-election last year as a Democrat.
State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge), who met with Kasparian today, says Dressel shouldn’t be penalized for a couple of union endorsements.
“That was his union, it wasn’t specifically Buzzy,” said Sarlo. “Look, if the county committee picks him he would have to guarantee that all endorsements out of that union hall are Democratic.”
At 3,500 members, Dressel’s local is the largest electrical construction workers union in the state.
“That’s the largest union in Bergen County, and the fact that he’s the president could turn into a big positive for him,” said Sarlo.
Dressel’s union, whose campaign contributions included one to GOP gubernatorial candidate Bret Schundler in 2001, will endorse only Democrats from now on. “Without a doubt,” he told PolitickerNJ.com.
“We need to bring credibility back to the Bergen County Democratic Party,” added Dressel, a Commissioner of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. “This is not the Democratic Party my grandfather was a part of. We’re supposed to be connecting people to the process, and that’s what I want to do. I want to bring the party back together. I’d actually be calling for meetings and a transparent process. Meanwhile, there’s somebody running against me who is unequivocally Joe Ferriero’s clone.”
On his way in to meet with Paramus developer and Democratic Party fundraiser Kasparian today, Sarlo dismissed the rumor of a conflict and said Dressell shouldn’t be penalized for backing a Republican or two.
Dressel has backed State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), who has feuded with Ferriero, and endorsed U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-Cliffside Park) in the 2008 primary when other Bergen Democrats, including Sarlo, endorsed U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews. (D-Haddon Heights). Dressel says that Ferriero’s flirtation with giving the Bergen line to Andrews – something he seemed prepared to do until U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-Hoboken) and U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-Fairlawn) intervened – was a more offensive transgression than backing a few Republicans.
But in a ground war with Kasparian, it could prove an issue.
“That’s not necessarily a positive thing in his background,” said Fair Lawn Democratic Chairman Barry Winston. “As long as I’ve been active I’ve competed against McNamara and Donovan and for me it raises specific issues and problems. It doesn’t mean he can’t have seen the light of day but it does represent issues. Would he continue as a leader of his union?”
Winston stressed the importance of process as the county committee prepares for a Jan. 15th meeting to apparently once and for all decide the fate of Ferriero, who has been on a leave of absence since his indictment last fall.
“There doesn’t appear to be a massive movement toward one candidate or the other,” Winston added of Dressell and Kasparian. “If the situation should arise and there’s a contest, so be it, but it doesn’t mean there’s a white knight out there.”
Nick Antonicello, the North Arlington Democratic Chairman, says he doesn’t know either Kasparian or Dressell. From what he’s gathered, however, he believes each is too clearly identified with one of the two main Democratic Party factions in Bergen — Weinberg in the case of Dressell, or Ferriero and the BCDO in the case of Kasparian.
In a gubernatorial election year in which victory depends on Bergen County, now is not the time to fan the flames of a civil war, he said.
“First of all, right now we don’t have a vacancy, Joe Ferriero is still chairman, but I think in the best interest of avoiding a segmented party we need an interim chairman who can unite the party,” Antonicello explained. “There’s a year and three months left in the chairman’s term. Let’s have an interim chair and let the candidates have an opportunity to run for office.”
The North Arlington Democrat says he would like to see an older person with some gravitas assume control of the beaten up party organization.
“Someone like (former State Sen.) Jerry O’Connor,” suggested Antonicello. “Jerry was a former freeholder, a retired banker who has nothing to gain. Perfect.”
Joseph Ariyan, the 2007 Democratic State Senate candidate in District 39 and the Saddle River Democratic Chairman, has endorsed Kasparian.
“I’ve known Michael Kasparian for several years and I consider him a friend,” said Ariyan. “In our current state he would be our best option to get us through this time of turmoil, and that’s nothing personal against Buzz Dressell.”
As for Dressel’s union’s endorsements of two Republicans, Ariyan would only say that “Mike Kasparian has been active since the early 1980’s, from the grassroots level of campaigning to being on Obama’s national finance committee. He never wavered in his commitment to party. If any other candidate has a different background, the county committee is of course willing to consider that.”
Dressel and Sarlo also dismissed the idea that Dressel’s has a conflict of interest because his business partner in a New Milford restaurant, Sanzari’s New Bridge Inn, is Joseph Sanzari, whose construction firm deals with labor unions. Dressel denies a conflict, noting that Sanzari is doing business with operating engineers not electricians. Sarlo is the chief engineer for the Sanzari firm.