One is forced to wonder on the eve of Election Day what ancient pagan rites are at work upon the collective subconsciousness right now of the Township of North Bergen.
It’s bedlam, with veteran political operatives blinking into the night in disbelief, wondering how they could have had careers in Hudson politics and never experienced such a circus.
“I’ve never seen it this f*cked up,” a source admitted to PolitickerNJ with a few hours to go before the polls open, admitting he fears someone will at the very least get cold-cocked at some point tomorrow – maybe worse.
It’s possible to explain away the machinations of Sacco v. Wainstein as insanity dredged and willed into the atmosphere to compensate for the lack of a competitive primary cycle, as though local politicos – crazy for politics the way others revel in professional sports – insisted on creating a war where none looked imminent just a handful of weeks ago. It is also possible that North Bergen, in a spasm of Hudson County identity-consciousness, felt threatened by the potential for neighboring West New York – and the reelection effort of a relative neophyte like Mayor Felix Roque – to take over the rather bland cycle and render completely irrelevant their beloved narrative of Nick Sacco, who’s at the apex of his political career.
Maybe the fear of incumbency took hold somewhat. Roque beat establishment darling Silverio “Sal” Vega four years ago in West New York; granted Sal had sprung a 50% tax increase on his town in one year, and the less fearsome Sal DOA wouldn’t create any tremors near Sacco but then to have watched Mark Smith go belly up in Bayonne, and then – worse – to have felt the proximity of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez’s (D-NJ) indictment.
There was political paranoia heaped on mortal fear.
Or maybe the wheels came off the chariot when those state Attorney General’s Office personnel raided Town Hall on the very day Sacco was scheduled to kick off his campaign, and whatever rage summoned for those lawmen and for a system that would intrude on electoral politics found sustenance in the thought of a campaign – that controllable field of moves perfected over years of implementation – and a target like longtime loathsome antagonist Larry Wainstein, who could absorb that rage and be toppled in the end in a one great, gratifying show of force.
Even Union City Mayor Brian P. Stack, a rival of Sacco’s going back to when Stack forced Sacco’s pal state Senator Bernie Kenny (D-33) into retirement – could feel the energy emanating from the older pol at Sacco’s kickoff event. When the newly friendly pair walked out of Schuetzen Park together that night of the campaign kickoff surrounded by Larry Wainstein backers reining down anti-Sacco invective, the two mayors – with Stack strangely in “I’ve got your back, Nick” mode, almost looked ready to thrown down – not against each other for once – but at the angry mob.
There was something else, though, something more accounting for the mood that had swallowed the town in a final weekend frenzy of mad-capped senior citizen showdowns, tongue-lashings aimed at Michelle Obama, and barrage after barrage of attacks from Wainstein, who all but charged Sacco with creating cancer itself. It was Wainstein, spending untold gobs of money, who insisted on dragging the campaign into a street fight, leaving Sacco allies incredulous and insisting that the businessman challenger would have been better off running a quiet campaign in sneak attack mode.
Now, they’re mad. Team Sacco is furious. “We’re gonna kick his ass and send him back to Franklin Lakes,” one of the mayor’s allies tonight tld PolitickerNJ, a reference to Wainstein’s alternative address outside North Bergen.
New Jersey’s most phlegmatic player of politics, the sphinx-like Sacco reemerged from years past, the quotable playbook again within arm’s reach:
“Issues? There are no issues in North Bergen. Our opponents will have to invent them.”
“No one likes negative campaigns. But they work.”
“Everything is done through the organizations.”
The enormous contempt for Wainstein was evident and obvious from Sacco’s people as they delighted Monday night in the knowledge of running those old plays on Election Day and dispensing once and for all with the challenger. But after all the chest-thumping and bravado, the Hudson County tough guy lingo and kettle war drum roll for Sacco, they knew Wainstein brought something else that deep down tickled the competitive juices of even the most complacent establishment types, who have dozed at whatever trough they found themselves at for ten or 20 or 30 plus years. They knew that Wainstein, heading for a loss, but dutifully speaking Spanish in the process and constantly coming forward, constantly being seen and on offense, teased a fight out of something that looked pro forma – yeah, maybe with the help of the AG’s Office, fine – but did his part as a challenger to put North Bergen firmly in the front of the zaniest of all elections in a decade, and even made a mayor once in chains in a neighboring town arguably look like the protagonist in a less interesting contest, or at least all of a piece with North Bergen.
Even if they planned to knock out Wainstein on the morrow, they knew the challenger came to fight; and here where elections are better than baseball or prize-fighting, that counted for something – even if only a semi-ignominious political pave-over.