UNION -Members of the Union County Democratic Committee (UCDC) unanimously nominated Assemblyman Joe Cryan as their choice for the next Union County Sheriff at a candidate screening tonight that, having screened no other candidates, served as more of a formality than anything else.
The choice had been made before the meeting even began.
“Nobody comes more prepared than Joe; nobody works harder than Joe,” Assemblyman and UCDC chairman Jerry Green (D-20) said before a roomful of friends, family and fellow Dems and local officials poised for applause. “Joe’s heart and soul is in the state of New Jersey. We’re not only getting a great official, we’re getting a top notch politician.”
Called together by Green three weeks ago, the UCDC’s screening tonight sought nominees for the November 4th ballot to replace former Union County Sheriff Ralph Froehlich, who passed away earlier this summer leaving behind the title, among others, of longest serving sheriff in New Jersey. But according to Green, who spoke to PolitickerNJ after the event, no others stepped up to challenge Cryan, despite the open submission process.
Cryan has been serving as acting sheriff since Froehlich’s death and had been the committee’s foremost choice since announcing his interest in the position, Green said. It’s also a natural step for the Assemblyman — he served as undersheriff to Froehlich during his tenure, and his father, John Cryan, had been sheriff in neighboring Essex County.
The party’s support was evident tonight, with nearly every town in the county represented — in aisles labeled Summit, Kenilworth, Roselle Park, Fanwood, and Cranford, among others — and with state Senators Ray Lesniak (D-20) and Nick Scutari (D-20) making the trip out not only to bestow blessing on Cryan’s nomination, but to honor his predecessor as well.
“We all know that Ralph cannot be replaced,” Lesniak said after quipping about how it was time to get rid of the state’s governor, Chris Christie. “Not in any of our hearts, not in any of our words. He was one of a kind.”
Cryan later returned the favor, noting the “mad genius” of Lesniak and the “calm, cool demeanor” of Scutari.
A former Assembly majority leader and Democratic State Committee chairman, Cryan’s move to county sheriff surprised some, who envisioned him sticking to the realm of policy and eventually climbing the ladder in the legislature to senate. He mulled a run once in his formative years, insiders say, but gave it up after Lesniak never retired. Tonight he embraced the sheriff’s seat, telling PolitickerNJ after the meeting that “you can’t complain if you’re doing what you love.”
“People have said to me, ‘What are you doing? Why would you want to leave the Assembly?’ I might mention Ray Lesniak more than once,” Cryan joked. “But the real reason is because I have the honor and the privilege of working with some of the most professional law enforcement officers in the state of New Jersey. I’m honored to do that each and every day. I’m honored to do that because they protect you and me from they bad guys. They do the job that a lot of other people wouldn’t.”
“I work with some of the greatest people on Earth,” Cryan added.
If elected in November, Cryan will serve a full three-year term at the post, where he’ll be responsible for the half-a-million-resident county’s courthouse security and transportation of prisoners, service of criminal and domestic warrants and extraditions, among other things. He said the focus of his work as sheriff would include embracing technology and encouraging efficiency in the police force.
“We have a lot of great work to build on the foundation of the legacy that Ralph Froehlich created,” Cryan said, adding earlier that “[Froehlich] is the sheriff in our world, and that’s the way it is and that’s the way it will be.”
But for energized leaders in the room, Cryan’s nomination signified another important aspect: Union County’s role as a Democratic stronghold in New Jersey. Democrats currently occupy all nine county freeholder seats in Union, and a Republican hasn’t won a countywide election since 1994.
For Green, that means “anyone who wants to be governor in this state has to come through Union County,” which he said ranks among the top five counties in the state in terms of plurality voting. Two possible gubernatorial candidates have already made their way through there in recent weeks, he noted — Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) earlier this month on his Transportation Trust Fund tour, and, just last night, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop for a fundraiser.
“We’ve got the Republican party on the ropes,” Green said, “and let me tell you something — I’m ready to take them out.”