The Bergen County Democratic Organization’s meeting tonight went off without a hitch, with the county committee men and women essentially confirming Chairman Joseph Ferriero’s choice for the 38th district’s two new legislative candidates.
In a closed meeting, the committee members unanimously elected Assemblyman Bob Gordon to fill the state Senate ballot spot left open after Joe Coniglio decided not to seek re-election. Freeholder/Paramus Councilwoman Connie Wagner will fill the slot left open by Gordon’s elevation. Incumbent Assemblywoman Joan Voss will remain as the 38th district’s other Democratic Assembly candidate.
No county committee members offered any alternative nominations.
The candidates were in good spirits after getting the party nod, but they were somber about the circumstances surrounding Coniglio’s decision to drop out of the race. Coniglio is under federal investigation regarding whether he steered state grants to Hackensack University Medical Center while on their payroll as a $5,500-a-month plumbing consultant.
“Joe sponsored some very good legislation in the years that he was there, and unfortunately a lot of this has been forgotten,” said Voss. Gordon echoed the sentiment, saying that Coniglio had helped draw resources to Bergen County for infrastructure improvements.
Wagner said that, if elected, she will resign from her positions on the Paramus Council and Bergen County Board of Chosen Freeholders. She mentioned three issues she wants to focus on during his first term in the Assembly.
“Obviously to stabilize taxes, but I consider myself a voice in education along with Joan, and a voice in the environment,” said Wagner.
It wasn’t certain that the meeting would run so smoothly. Anti-Ferriero county committeeman Bob Gulack had planned to nominate Fort Lee Councilman Michael Villano for the state Senate seat and, failing that, for the Assembly seat. Villano initially accepted Gulack’s offer, driving to Fair Lawn to drop his resume off at his home. Soon after, however, he changed his mind.
Gulack, disappointed and suspicious about Villano changing had mind, chose not attend the meeting. The lack of opposition, he said, was “un-American, un-democratic and dysfunctional to a frightening degree.”
Villano, however, said that it was his own decision not to put his name up as a nominee, since he didn’t want to put himself in a middle of a fight between two factions of the party. As to why he accepted the offer to begin with, Villano said “my ego got involved, quite frankly.”
Coniglio’s withdrawal from the race means that Republican state Senate candidate Bob Colletti has an even tougher battle in this relatively safe Democratic district. But Colletti spokesman Thom Ammirato insisted that Gordon would be just as vulnerable as Coniglio. The race, he said, will be fought primarily on taxes. And Gordon, who along with Voss received a subpoena relating to the investigation of Coniglio, is not completely untouched by the scandal, even if he is not a target.
“I think the ethical cloud extends to Assemblyman Gordon and the rest of the Democratic Praty,” said Ammirato. “You never heard Gordon demand that his running mate step down for the good of the party or more importantly for the good of the voters. He’s been strangely silent throughout this whole thing.”