The last Republican Sheriff of Hudson County

Editor: Mea Culpa, we messed this up.  Two astute readers pointed out that Sheriff Domenick Pugliese ran for re-election as a Republican after losing the support of the Hudson County Democratic Organization in 1986.  Pugliese ran on a ticket headed the the GOP candidate for Congress, Albio Sires, but lost to Democrat Edward Webster. 

If Juan Perez switches parties, he would become the first Republican to serve as Hudson County Sheriff since John Kaiser lost his bid for re-election in 1907.  Boosted by Theodore Roosevelt’s coattails, Kaiser ousted incumbent John Zeller in 1904.  Kaiser was a casualty of a high stakes political war in Jersey City between two Republicans, Mayor Mark Fagan and Secretary of State Samuel Dickinson, the GOP party boss.

Dickinson had initially recruited Fagan to run for Mayor in 1901, but the political alliance lasted just a few years.  Fagan tried to get Republican Gov. Edward Stokes to fire Dickinson as Secretary of State, alleging that his rival was actually a resident of New York City.  Fagan said that Dickinson spent most of his time at the Seventh Avenue apartment of Joel Cory, a 77-year-old traveling salesman for the Trenton Tile Company, and revealed that Cory’s 58-year-old wife often accompanied Dickinson at restaurants and to the theater while Cory was out of town.  He noted that the two often spent weekends together in Long Branch, and traveled to Europe several times.  Dickinson filed a $100,000 libel suit against Fagan.

Kaiser, a Dickinson ally, was arrested at 4 AM on May 7, 1907 at a local saloon by Jersey City police officer John Sheffmeyer, who was a supporter of Fagan.  Sheffmeyer said that he observed Kaiser playing poker and noted seven chips and a one dollar bill in front of him, but Kaiser insisted he was at a political meeting and accused the policemen of being drunk.

In November, Democrat James Kelly ousted Kaiser, and Democrat Otto Wittpenn defeated Fagan in the mayoral race.  Fagan eventually returned to the mayoralty – he was the last Republican mayor until Bret Schundler won in 1992 – and Kaiser got a job as the Clerk of the Hudson County Division of Elections.

There were recounts in races for Hudson County Sheriff twice during the 20th century, both times in presidential years.  In 1920, Warren Harding’s coattails helped the GOP capture all twelve Hudson County Assembly seats, but Sheriff Thomas Madigan narrowly held on against Republican Andrew Hart.  In 1956, Sheriff William Flanagan held on to win even as a Republican, boosted by Dwight Eisenhower’s victory in Hudson County, won election to Congress.  Flanagan later held higher office: he was the Executive Director of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority from 1962 to 1988.

Helped by Ronald Reagan, Republicans Octavio Alfonso and Roger Dorian won district Freeholder seats in 1984, ousting incumbent Freeholders Anthony DeVincent (the mayor of North Bergen) and Steve Cappiello (the mayor of Hoboken).  Gov. Thomas Kean’s 1985 landslide helped the GOP capture four Assembly seats.  All six Republicans were one-termers.

The last Republican to hold a non-municipal office in Hudson County was Assemblyman Rafael Fraguela (R-Union City).  Fraguela was elected to the Assembly as a Democrat in 2001, and switched parties after Hudson Democrats dumped him in favor of Union City Mayor Brian Stack.  In 2003, Fraguela, as a sitting GOP Assemblyman, lost a State Senate race against Senate Majority Leader Bernard Kenny (D-Hoboken) by a wide margin.

The last Republican Sheriff of Hudson County