On Tuesday night, members of the Bergen County Republican Organization (BCRO) elected former LD36 Assemblyman Paul DiGaetano as their new chairman. That move ousted incumbent chairman Bob Yudin.
With the highly volatile nature of the election, PolitickerNJ decided to look at the implications DiGaetano’s win could have for the future of Bergen County. Here are five questions created by DiGaetano’s win:
1. How will this win impact LD40?
In April, a ticket for LD40 fronted by Passaic County Clerk Kristin Corrado was announced. Because of the inclusion of Wyckoff Mayor Kevin Rooney as one of the assembly candidates along with Christopher DeFillips, DiGaetano was unabashedly critical of the ticket, claiming it had been the product of a backroom deal forged by Yudin in order to secure control of the county. That claim stemmed from the fact that before Rooney endorsed Yudin in the chairman’s race—and became a running mate—he had actually been a challenger for the position. With that history, it is possible to imagine that DiGaetano might try to dismantle the ticket and replace it with one he finds more favorable. When DiGaetano entered the chairman’s race, Yudin routinely criticized him for attempting to use the position as a springboard to launch himself back into elected office and become the LD40 senator.
A further division in LD40 might stem from Corrado’s association with Peter Murphy, the former Passaic County Chairman who was found guilty for involvement in a kickback scheme in 2001. If DiGaetano decides to not attempt to change the already-announced LD40 ticket, it would show a return of power to Murphy, a staunch Corrado ally.
2. How will this impact LD39?
LD39 Senator Gerry Cardinale was one of Yudin’s fiercest allies in the BCRO chairman’s race. DiGaetano’s victory opens up the door to the possibility that the new chairman may attempt to replace Cardinale with a candidate more aligned with his interests. That speculation opens the door for curiosity about whether Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi may be tapped to replace Cardinale on a DiGaetano-approved party line. However, according to a source, because of Cardinale’s long tenure in LD39 and the fact that he is fairly well liked by his constituents, an attempt to oust him might be politically unwise for the newly minted chairman. Schepisi did not pick sides in the BCRO chairman’s race.
3. Can the party be unified?
The chairman’s race was an incredibly combative fight between DiGaetano and Yudin. Accusations flew, countless endorsements were given and mailers attacking the candidates arrived in the mailboxes of BCRO members. While a new chairman has been elected, the nature of the contest begs the question of how the county party can come back together after such a messy war.
While state Senator Kevin O’Toole is leaving at the end of this term, he made claims earlier this month that DiGaetano had once threatened his life. Michael Cino, a failed CD5 congressional challenger, accused Yudin of using ethnic slurs against Italians. With such accusations being so fresh in the consciousness of BCRO members, it will be interesting to see how Bergen will react to new initiatives from the recently elected chairman.
Also, Bergen County may not be the only one impacted by a change in county’s GOP party leadership. The much-talked-about LD40 also straddles parts of Passaic, Morris and Essex Counties so a division in who the various county organizations support (the Corrado ticket v. a presumed DiGaetano ticket) means that Bergen could find itself distanced from other county GOP organizations. According to a source, it is likely that Corrado’s ticket is all in. The source said they will be unlikely to drop out of the race even if they do not get the county line in Bergen.
4. Will DiGaetano put his ambitions behind the party’s needs?
As is mentioned above, there is significant speculation that DiGaetano aims to run for an LD40 senate seat in 2017. According to a source, the new chairman only moved from Nutley to Franklin Lakes in order to take hold of power in Bergen County leading up to the LD40 election. Now that he has won, however, time will tell if DiGaetano actually pursues that senate seat. According to the source, DiGaetano needs to focus heavily on the races that will be held in the next five months if he is to be successful as Bergen GOP chairman. The source also said that his victory over Yudin likely was secured because many Bergen Republicans wanted a new leader in an attempt to win more races. The source said that many were likely willing to overlook mutterings of DiGaetano’s own political ambitions in order to install new leadership in the BCRO.
5. What are the gubernatorial implications?
If the division between Bergen, Morris, Passaic and Essex Counties in LD40 does happen in 2017, DiGaetano potentially inserting himself in to the senate race could have implications for the 2017 gubernatorial primary. If multiple tickets exist for the senate and assembly, it gives gubernatorial contenders the chance to step in and forge alliances with those different groups. So, potentially, the county party organizations could have different party lines in the primary under likely gubernatorial candidates like Kim Guadagno or Jack Ciattarelli.