Ortiz takes the plunge

Rob Ortiz didn’t have much time to celebrate his victory last night. After winning the Chairmanship of the Bergen County Republican Organization, Ortiz was given his first task: lock up the headquarters building.

The grind starts immediately for Ortiz. Tonight he’ll be back at headquarters, helping run an event with special guest 14th District Assemblyman Bill Baroni. Baroni, a primary author of the state’s Clean Elections legislation, is trying to drum up small donors in support of the 37th district Republican legislative candidates – about as long shot a slate as you can get in New Jersey, since they’re running against a ticket led by the ever popular Loretta Weinberg. But it’s a race Ortiz thinks is important to mount nonetheless.

“Ultimately you’ve got to give the electorate a choice, or else what’s the point of having an election?” said Ortiz. “We’ll put up candidates in every district, in every town, in every municipality and we’ll start making some inroads.”

While the Baroni event will be the first on his watch, Ortiz said the first step to rebuilding the Bergen County party will be at the micro level – retaking control of the councils and mayoral offices of Bergen County’s 70 boroughs, townships and cities, gradually building back the organization’s influence and power.

Ortiz plans to have a meeting with all of the county’s Republican Mayors and other elected officials to solidify the party around a central anti-tax, anti-corruption message. He also plans to meet with his former opponents for BCRO Chair, Ben Focarino and Bill Thomson.

“If we’re all on the same page, pushing the same message I think we will make some inroads,” said Ortiz, who cautioned local Republicans not to expect an immediate turn-around. Ortiz said it would be nearly impossible for the party to do an about face in the few short months before November. “It’s going to be difficult, but we do intent to put up a good fight and I think we will see some new Republican faces in elected positions, and I think 2008 is where we’re going to make some inroads.”

But Ortiz feels that he doesn’t need to do much more to energize the party. The fact that 458 voters turned out during a two hour period on a rainy summer night was proof enough to him that it’s well on its way. And he’ll need all the collective energy he can get to take on his Democratic counterpart Joe Ferriero, whose critics even concede that he knows how to run a successful county organization.

Ferriero offered congratulations to Ortiz, but doubted that the Bergen Republicans would be able to overcome county's leftward trend or its own philosophical split between moderates and conservatives.

"I want to congratulate him and wish him well," said Ferriero. "I’m confident, however, that his being elected chair is not going to in any way effect the fact the Democrats will continue to win in Bergen county."

Since the county party faces such daunting challenges, some of Ortiz’s detractors suggested during the campaign that between his legal career and young family – Ortiz is married with three young children — he may not have as much time as necessary to devote to the BCRO. Not true, said Ortiz. While fundraising for Republicans, he was constantly traveling. Now his work will focus closer to home.

“Those people who say that basically don’t know who I am and what I’ve done,” said Ortiz. Ortiz takes the plunge