Bergen Exec: McNerney vs. Donovan, Round 1

Sneak attacks on the blue laws, police chauffeur to a Yankees game, and: “You sound like a silly little kid.”

If the NJN Candidate Match-Up which aired Sunday was any indication, the gloves are off in the Bergen County Executive race.

Moderated by Michael Aron, the 22-minute firefight pitted Democratic incumbent Dennis McNerney versus Republican County Clerk Kathe Donovan. Each brought their hammer points.

For McNerney, it was that Donovan had spent “four decades in government” – or more specifically, at least part of each of the last four decades – yet doesn’t understand how the county works.

Donovan borrowed a Record editorial to belabor the point that McNerney was a “political incumbent mired in scandal.”

“It was hot, and I don’t mean the temperature in the studio,” State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) said. “I assume they checked for guns when they came in.”

“I thought she killed him,” said Donovan advisor Alan Marcus. “He wasn’t focused.”

“I’m always critical of Dennis,” State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) said, and “I was quite impressed.”

Donovan castigated McNerney for the county carrying “a billion – with a B – dollars in debt,” which McNerney characterized as pass-through debt which allows municipalities to use the county’s AAA bond rating.

She dressed him down for not vetoing minutes of the county financial arm, the Bergen County Improvement Authority, and listed examples of misspending. But she took a pass on tagging McNerney with the arrest of Chairman Ron O’Malley.

Meanwhile, McNerney lambasted her for $2 million in helicopter rides as chairwoman of the Port Authority. Only six-and-a-half round-trips, she shrugs, but – picking her spot – she returned fire with mention of a county police chauffeur for McNerney and ex-party boss Joe Ferriero to a Yankees game.

McNerney loosely links Donovan to Gov. Chris Christie on blue laws by putting her on the spot for Christie’s legal basis to intervene on the local third rail when it comes to Xanadu, the so-far-unopened retail behemoth at the Meadowlands.

“Kathe Donovan’s trying to sneak that in,” he said, of a Sunday shopping respite retraction.

“You have no understanding of county government,” McNerney charged, “It’s sad that you’ve never been (to a Freeholder board meeting).”

Both candidates were talking over each other, at times, and tension was high.

“He sounds like a little boy,” Donovan said at one point, and again: “You sound like a silly little kid.”

“That’s when his head snapped back,” Marcus said.

Sarlo called it “inappropriate” for Donovan to disrespect the office in that way, let alone McNerney.

Another Democratic insider called it a baiting technique similar to what Hilary Clinton used against Rick Lazio, intended to make the male candidate aggressive and thus cull sympathy for a female candidate.

Maybe a slip of the tongue, maybe a jab, or maybe just pronunciation, McNerney calls Donovan “Katty” at one point.

During the interview, Donovan laughed loudly over several of McNerney’s explanations.

On her backing from the Sierra Club, McNerney belittled Executive Director Jeff Tittel. “This guy, Jeff Title or something,” McNerney said, which gave him little ground to proudly present Overpeck Park as an enviro-lover’s paradise.

“There’s no front entrance,” Donovan hit him with, as well as costs.

“He walked into a real roundhouse punch on Overpeck,” Marcus said.

She attacked him on two electron microscopes for the schools that cost a $1 million, but he wonkishly turned it into a win for school kids who will be able to secure nano-technology jobs.

“Dennis made his points a little bit more clearly,” Weinberg said.

Several other debates loom for these two candidates, but none will be as free-form as the NJN debate, which leaves Democrats hoping that McNerney’s grasp of the issues will show through more in longer, more structured formats.

Republicans think Donovan can use that extra time to disparage McNerney and allow him to boil over under attack.

Bergen Exec: McNerney vs. Donovan, Round 1