In Hudson County, it’s the sequel to Menendez v. Garcia

A major political feud between Congressman Albio Sires and his hand-picked successor, Sal Vega, is setting the stage for yet another potential war in Hudson County this spring. Vega, who succeeded Sires as Mayor of West New York and as the Assemblyman from the 33rd district in November, has fired some of Sires’ people at City Hall and replaced them with allies of the late Mayor Anthony DeFino — who was (and is, posthumously) Sires’ bitter political enemy. Vega has even hung a portrait of DeFino in City Hall — something Sires steadfastly refused to do, even though that honor is traditionally extended to former Mayors. But Vega’s allies say that the fight is over Sires’ insistance that Vega allow him to influence — or dictate — who will run on the slate in the next election. One insider says that Sires is pushing his wife, Adrienne Sires, the Assistant Superintendent of Schools. Vega has been a bit of a maverick during his two months as an Assemblyman. He has reportedly annoyed some of his Democratic colleagues by “shooting his mouth off in caucus” instead of taking some time to learn the ropes, and has voted with Assembly Republicans on some procedural motions — viewed as a capital offense in the Democratic caucus. Vega has still not received a committee assignment. Sires views Vega’s actions as a personal afront, and is now talking about opposing his re-election. But despite the enormous popularity of the former Assembly Speaker, the power in Hudson County politics lies with the Mayors — and with Vega in City Hall, some insiders say the others will protect him. The key player in this drama will be Union City Mayor Brian Stack, who serves with Vega in the Assembly and is seeking a seat in the State Senate. If Stack backs Vega over Sires, there might be little the freshman Congressman can do to protect his hometown turf. For the 33rd district, this is like de ja vu all over again. Just seven years ago, then-Congressman Robert Menendez, a former Mayor of Union City and ex-State Senator, sought to influence local politics through a protege he picked to run for the Legislature and supported for Mayor. The meltdown of Rudy Garcia’s political career will probably become one of those stories old time politicians tell young up-and-comers for years to come. Garcia was a promising 29-year-old lawyer when he was selected to fill a vacant seat in the State Assembly in 1993, and when incumbent Union City Mayor Bruce Walter died in 1998, Garcia was popular enough to win the support of Menendez’s political organization to be appointed Mayor. Within a year, Garcia split with Menendez and sought to exercise the clout that comes with being Mayor. He forged an alliance with County Executive Bob Janiszewski and dumped Menendez ally Neftali Cruz from his seat on the Hudson County Board of Freeholders; Cruz’s seat was filled by Stack, who was a local rival of Menendez and Garcia, and who ran unsuccessfully for City Commissioner the year before. And he fired Menendez’s best friend, powerful North Jersey lawyer Donald Scarinci, as the City Attorney. |But Garcia’s own ambition proved to exceed his own leadership abilities, and he quickly lost support in Union City. Stack forged a relationship with Menendez and together they engineered a recall effort that forced Garcia’s resignation as Mayor in 2000 and took away his seat in the State Assembly in 2001.

In Hudson County, it’s the sequel to Menendez v. Garcia