BERGEN COUNTY – The results from Bergen County, New Jersey’s electoral bellwether, were mixed this election season. But for the Bergen County Republican Organization (BCRO), the election might be less about voting districts and more about dissent. In the American South, they would say it’s all over but the shouting regarding the election. But in Bergen, the blame game has begun, and the internal Republican bloodletting continues unabated.
Republican Gov. Chris Christie walloped Democratic challenger Barbara Buono by 50,000 votes in Bergen as part of his decisive re-election victory. But while GOP Sheriff Michael Saudino survived the vote, other Republicans did not: one freeholder, John Mitchell, lost by a slim margin, and the entire Legislative District 38 slate went down in closely-run defeat.
The two pillars of the Bergen Republicans, Bergen County Executive Kathleen Donovan and Bergen County Republican Chairman Bob Yudin, have long stood in opposition to each other. Now Republicans on both sides of the intra-party divide assert the other is to blame for the GOP losses this election season.
But for Yudin, the 2013 election narrative is not about loss.
“We had outstanding success in this campaign. The sheriff got re-elected, and two of our three freeholders got re-elected. The one freeholder who did not get re-elected did not get re-elected by approximately 269 votes out of 200,000 votes cast. We won 85 municipal elections, versus 37 for the Democrats,” Yudin said. “You can’t blame me if the governor didn’t have coattails. He didn’t have coattails anywhere throughout the state. I don’t run the legislative races – it’s all run by Trenton. Yet my detractors say we didn’t do well. There are a group of people who will never be for me. Why am I being blamed for this?
“I’m not denying that there’s division in the party,” Yudin added. “A weekend before the election, the county executive was part of a bullet e-mail campaign for [Freeholder] Maura DeNicola. She sent out an email that said ‘Vote for Maura.” She didn’t say vote for [Freeholders John Felice and John Mitchell]. That’s despicable. I did everything for the whole team.”
Donovan endorsed DeNicola in writing, but did not endorse Felice and Mitchell in the same way. DeNicola has supported Donovan in her bid to stop the proposed merger of the Bergen County Police Office into the Sheriff’s Department; Felice and Mitchell, along with Yudin, support consolidation.
Jeanne Baratta, Donovan’s chief of staff, said the road to the county executive’s support was always wide open.
“She endorsed anybody that asked for her endorsement,” Baratta said. “She put a robocall out for District 38 candidates because they asked her. She did a lot of local endorsements. Anybody that asked the county executive for an endorsement, she did it for them. She would have done it for Felice and Mitchell, but she absolutely would not have taken it upon herself to do it. She supported the entire Republican ticket in Bergen County.”
Felice, however, said the Bergen GOP can “agree to disagree.”
“Words have meaning, and words can be parsed out,” Felice, who won re-election, said. “As the top elected official in the county, I would expect her to be consistent.”
“Pointing fingers is unproductive,” DeNicola said. “I certainly have a good relationship with the county executive, and we do communicate with one another, and that is so critically important for us as a party moving forward.”
“I’m not going to cast blame either way,” Mitchell said. “The way I view it, I think about could I have gone to another V.F.W. hall, or another senior center, to get a few more votes. Who knows what’s in the minds of the voters?”
Several Republican operatives who spoke to PolitickerNJ.com don’t know what’s in the minds of their collective leadership.
“Yudin and the Republican Party got played by (Bergen County Democratic Chairman Lou) Stellato. They got played big time. They didn’t think he was going to mount a real challenge in the legislative races,” said a male GOP operative. “Yudin and [State Sen. Gerry Cardinale (R -39)] had everybody bullet-voting to get rid of Maura DeNicola, and it backfired. The party is crumbling from the inside.”
“The BCRO’s dysfunction – I don’t know where you can start,” said a female Republican operative, who indicated that the party is not reaching out enough to female, Hispanic, Asian and younger voters in Bergen. “All you need to do is look at a Democratic Party picture, and look at a Republican one. The GOP is not resonating with the demographics of the county or the country. The Republican leadership in Bergen is more concerned with their own personal agendas as opposed to building an energized party on a strong, grassroots foundation. If you don’t do that, people will walk away, and they have walked away.”