Peace in Hudson County

It was one of those Hudson County moments. West New York Mayor Silverio “Sal” Vega, who ran in a nasty State Senate primary race against Union City Mayor Brian Stack, stood with Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, a Stack ally, to announce a peace agreement of sorts in the 33rd district.

During the primary campaign six months ago, Vega had called Stack “crooked,” compared his hold on Union City to a cult of personality and accused him of bribing county committeemen and women to take their names off the ballot. Stack responded by Vega a “puppet” of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO).

But at today’s outdoor press conference on West New York’s Boulevard East, Vega was ready to make nice over hot cocoa — paid for by Turner.

“Too often, in the heat of a primary battle, competing sides say things that were better left unsaid. If I offended anyone, I offer my apologies and assure everyone that I am not going to harbor any ill feelings about the things that were said about me.”

Vega and Turner said that the point of today’s press conference was to announce a spirit of cooperation in the 33rd legislative district, with hopes that it would soon spread to the rest of the county’s party and eliminate the divide between the HCDO and Stack’s Democrats for Hudson County (DFHC).

Stack was not present, but Turner was there on behalf of both him and U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, the former Mayor of West New York who has had a cold relationship with Vega, his former commissioner, since he went to Washington to fill the seat left vacant by U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez in 2006. Vega said he was not speaking on behalf of the rest of HCDO, but hoped the feeling was mutual.

Vega said that he’s come to accept political reality: that as long as he’s mayor of West New York, he has to learn to work with his district’s legislators. Their interests, he said, are tied to his own.

“One thing I noticed in Trenton is that they rejoice in the fact that Hudson is not united…. Our losses are their gains,” said Vega.

Beyond this legislative district, there is a peace that’s slowly creeping across Hudson County, which saw fierce state senate primary battles not only in this district, but also in the 31st between Assemblyman Louis Manzo on behalf of the DFHC and Sandra Bolden Cunningham for the HCDO. On the morning of November 30th, Vega, Stack, Turner and Sires met separately with Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise and Jersey City Mayor/HCDO Chairman Jerramiah Healy.

Although the 33rd district legislative primary was a bloodbath, with Stack beating Vega even in his own home town, the DFHC has agreed not to wage a recall effort in West New York.

“It ends it as far as we’re concerned,” said Turner, adding “We all have mischief makers in all of our communities… The tradition is that you don’t get involved in internal politics. So as far as our end, yes.”

The HCDO, in turn, appears much more likely to give Sires the party line rather than field a primary challenger against him.

“It is too early, but yes the HCDO is leaning that way, and this is all part of the peace negotiation and the talks that we’re having,” said Healy.

It’s also still too early in the peace process to tell whether the DFHC will field a challenger to Healy in 2009. Healy has a lot of incentive to make peace, especially when he already has Councilman Steven Fulop breathing down his neck with ballot proposals that could raise his political profile in preparation for a showdown.

While Healy has lately sounded keen on peace, North Bergen Mayor/State Senator Nicholas Sacco – who wields a lot of power in northern Hudson County — has been more reluctant. He’s still enmeshed in a dispute with Stack over the makeup of the board of the North Hudson Community Action Corporation and the appointment of Stack’s close ally, Chris Irizarry, as its executive director – a plum patronage position. Sacco is also said to be concerned that some HCDO allies from the primary fight could fall by the wayside in any brokered agreements.

Sacco could not be reached for comment, but Healy said that the press conference was a step in the right direction, and hopes to have a comprehensive county-wide peace ironed out before the beginning of the new legislative session next month.

“I certainly want to make peace as much or more so than Rich Turner, Brian Stack, Albio and Sal – I’ve been working on it for a while and I think we’re going to get there,” said Healy.

Peace in Hudson County