Bergen Dems exploit Republican divisions

At a campaign event last night, Bergen County Republican freeholder candidates John Driscoll and Rob Hermansen embraced in front of a crowd of supporters.

It was a hug meant to demonstrate the unity that appeared early on to be missing from their campaign. The two candidates – who are widely believed to be the Republicans with the best shot at winning a seat on the all-Democratic freeholder board since 2003 — had separate campaign managers, Web sites and literature. The split was said to be indicative of internal Bergen County Republican rivalries.

But the hug was heartfelt, according to Hermansen.

“It was exactly how we feel about each other. We cannot wait to sit next to each other on that board,” he said.

Nevertheless, the campaign of Democratic incumbents Julie O’Brien and Vernon Walton have seized on the candidates’ well-publicized split, airing a New York media market radio ad in which goofball impersonators of Herman, a stock broker, and Driscoll, a tobacco sales rep, bicker and accuse each other of marketing cigarettes to children and cheating senior citizens.

“Hey Driscoll, how does it feel to push cigarettes on little kids? Got any cool new flavors?” says the Hermansen impersonator.

“Take that back,” the Driscoll impersonator responds, later adding “Smoke is legal, Hermansen. At least I’m not trying to screw old ladies out of their life savings.”

The ad also says that Driscoll is “part of a right wing group trying to legalize assault weapons.”

“Let me get this straight,” says the ad’s narrator. “Driscoll is pushing assault weapons and cigarettes on kids, and Hermansen’s own clients don’t trust him?”

Ben Feldman, a spokesman for the Democrats, said that the commercial is satire.

“I think for any 30 second ad, one of the best way to get your message across is the use of satire,” he said. “But at the end of the day, there is a connection there.”

The connection is that Driscoll works for the Lorillard Tobacco company, which has pushed back against federal government regulations on how and where it can market its products. For Hermansen, it was a complaint filed against his former firm alleging alleged trading in the mid-1990s.

“The client came in and had more of a complaint against my old firm than they did against me. But because I was broker of record on the account, we all get named,” said Hermansen. “In the end, when all was said and done, my firm looked at everything – in 1996 — and came to the conclusion that I did nothing wrong.”

Driscoll, for his part, said that the commercial “crossed the line” by insinuating that he pushed cigarettes on children. He also said that he does not belong to any gun organizations and has “never even shot a gun in my life.”

“My legal team is looking at it, and I’m not going to go any further at it,” he said.

Feldman, the Democrats’ spokesman, said doubted the sincerity of the Republicans’ hug.

“I’ll put it to you this way: you can have a runaway dog and a dog catcher shake hands, but that doesn’t mean they invite each other over for thanksgiving dinner,” he said.

Bergen Dems exploit Republican divisions