With the election tentatively set for July 24th, Robert Ortiz, a 35-year-old lawyer from Ridgewood and a Republican fundraiser, is facing longtime Bergen County Republicans Ben Focarino, 64, and Bill Thompson, 57.
All three candidates to be the county’s new Republican Chairman agree on one fundamental issue: the party is in a rut, with nowhere to go but up. But just who can bring the party farther up is where they disagree – whether the party needs an insider who has proved his loyalty over the years, or a young, relative newcomer who can infuse new blood into a desperate party.
Focarino had been thinking about seeking the office for months, he said, and has been running a low key campaign for the post, chatting up the rank and file whenever possible.
“I’ve been around,” said Focarino, who used to work as an aide to Senator Gerald Cardinale. “I know the inner workings with state government as well as county government.”
While Focarino did not give any names of supporters, Steve Lonegan, the Mayor of Bogota and a contributor to PoliticsNJ.com, backs him.
”There’s a lot to be said for good long-term relationships – people who know people, the ins and outs of what peole need to do,” said Lonegan, who added that he had never met Ortiz. “I don’t think the Bergen County Republican Party needs to be a training ground for novices.”
Lonegan added that coming from Garfield, Focarino can help the party in southern Bergen County, where Democrats tend to predominate.
Bill Thomson, 57, a campaign consultant and former Christian Coalition staffer, has also been around for a while. In fact, this is the second time that Thomson has run for this particular office.
Last year, Thomson came close to becoming BCRO chair, he said. At the organization’s last election, Thomson said he had the votes lined up to become Chairman. But he missed the deadline to get his name on the ballot, and Guy Talarico blocked nominations from the floor. Those who were going to vote for him, Thomson said, simply put their ballots in their pockets and walked out.
Now, after Talrico’s resignation, Thomson – a former Christian Coalition staffer who circulated a petition that called for Talarico’s recall along with Ed Trawinski – will have another shot at becoming chairman, and this time his victory will not be as certain.
“I’m not disappointed,” said Thomson. “I didn’t just sit around for twelve months and cry about the fact that I wasn’t allowed to be on the ballot….. Now the opportunity is there again so I’m running again.”
Thomson touts his experience as a campaign consultant and his work with the Christian Coalition – a group often credited with helping to turn Congress Republican in 1994 – as qualities that can help him whip the county party into shape.
“My leadership style is no-nonsense, mission oriented style that just sort of became part of me from my days in the marine corps- get everyone on board to make sure we work a little harder and smarter than what we did in the past,” said Thomson.
Ortiz is considered by many to be the favorite in this race, as he’s earned the backing of several prominent Republicans – most recently Bergen County Clerk Kathleen Donovan and former Freeholder Lisa Randall, who was until then a potential candidate for BCRO chair. Ortiz has built up a reputation as an effective Republican fundraiser, but he simply hasn’t been around long enough to know as many members of the rank-and-file as his opponents do. Nevertheless, he was encouraged by the response he received at Saturday morning’s candidate meet-and-greet.
“I believe out of the three candidates I’m the only one that laid out a plan and a vision of where we need to go and how we need to go about doing it,” said Ortiz. “Afterwards a lot of people came up to me and said they’re excited about the new direction the party’s going to take.”