Think the Bergen County Republican Organization is weak? That may be what they want you to believe.
“Think of the movie Braveheart. Let them think that we’re down,” said Freeholder candidate Paul Duggan at last night’s “meet and greet” for the three candidates for BCRO Chairman.
In truth, Duggan said, the Bergen County Republican Party has seen better days, but he was confident that after electing its new Chairman, the bad old days could soon be over.
Cooperation was the overarching theme of last night’s event, which was held at a senior center in front of a posh strip mall in Woodcliff Lake. So much so that Senator Gerald Cardinale, who attended the event along with Assemblyman John Rooney and Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk, went as far as to suggest having all three candidates serve as joint chairs for the remainder of the unexpired term left vacant by Guy Talarico.
“It was a thought that I threw out to see if it could fly. I hope it does, because whoever wins, even though the others stay active, some of the supporters of some of the others are going to be unhappy,” said Cardinale.
It was the first any of the candidates had heard of the idea, and they had mixed feelings about it. Thomson was warm to it, saying that it gave the image of a “united front.”
“If it’s truly going to be three people who are going to be involved, what’s the difference?” said Thomson.
Focarino and Ortiz, however, both said that it could involve some complicated organizational bylaw changes that would take time to figure out – time that the organization doesn’t have before the date of the next election.
“At this point I think it’s good for the organization to have a new leader, and hopefully we’ll be able to move forward after the election,” said Ortiz.
But before Cardinale made his suggestion, each candidate made his case to about 25 County Committee members. All three pledged to revive and revitalize the party through fundraising and community involvement, and getting residents of towns like Woodcliff Lake to open their wallets couldn’t hurt either.
All antipathy towards different stripes Republicans should be directed instead towards Democrats, said the candidates. Ortiz stressed that the Chairman of the party needs to be practical and could not be an ideologue. Thomson, for his part, gave a passionate denouncement of “the enemy,” saying that regardless of slight differences of opinion, the whole point is for Republicans to beat Democrats, not on each other.
“I don’t like them, I don’t eat with them, I don’t drink with them, and I don’t sing with them,” said Thomson, adding that last line as a subtle dig at former BCRO Chair Guy Talarico, who was spotted singing Karaoke with County Democratic Chairman Joe Ferriero. “I don’t believe they should ever hold political office,” said Thomson.
An interesting dynamic to this race is the old against the new. Rob Ortiz is 35 and perhaps the highest profile candidate, but he’s also the least known to the county committee members who will actually cast a vote. His supporters say he’s exactly the type of new blood that the party needs.
Focarino and Thomson are both old hands, having been active in Bergen County politics for decades. Neither could resist mentioning Ortiz’s status as a newcomer, and how not everybody knows him.
Their philosophies on what the party needs to do to get back on its feet are essentially the same, however. The main point of contention is who has the better background to accomplish it.
Focarino said that he’s been around so long that committee members should already know what he’s capable of, and said that it was necessary to organize more frequent and larger events to raise money. Thomson drew on his success as a Marine recruiter in the 1970’s and a Christian Coalition consultant in the 90s to prove that he knows how to win. Ortiz brought out his “Maverick” status in the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign, a label given to anyone under 40 who raised more than $50,000.
Duggan, the freeholder candidate, said he was thrilled with all three choices.
“Regardless of who wins, we have anointed a new Joint Chiefs of Staff,” he said.