Leadership for the Bergen County Republican Organization is in flux tonight, as Chairman Rob Ortiz will have to fight on another week to keep his post.
Ortiz was the narrow top vote-getter in tonight’s election, with 277 votes to former freeholder candidate Bob Yudin’s 262 and Ben Focarino’s 115.
That means there will be a runoff election next Tuesday between Ortiz and Yudin.
“We won, just not by enough,” said Ortiz.
Tonight’s event was the scene of some controversy. When Superintendent of Election Patricia DiCostanza announced that only those who voted tonight could vote in next week’s election, Yudin yelled an objection across the room.
“That’s not the way I understood it,” he said. Immediatley afterward, he told DiCostanza “You’re disenfranchising the Orthodox Jews,” said Yudin.
Those orthodox Jews who were not able to vote tonight because they were observing the holiday Shavuot until sundown would be ineligible to vote next week. Yudin had pushed for tonight’s voting to be extended until 10:30 to allow them to vote.
But Yudin later accepted the decision, saying that he would run an aggressive campaign to reach out not only to Focarino’s supporters, but to Ortiz’s as well.
The narrow margin between Ortiz and Yudin could make Focarino a kingmaker – if you could consider the thankless task of running this belaguered minority party at all kingly. Ortiz and Yudin will both have to court Focarino’s 115 supporters.
Focarino said that he’s not ready to endorse either of the candidates. But before the results rolled in, when he was asked who he would support if it came to a runoff, Focarino seemed to indicate which way he leaned.
“The reason we’re running is we’re not satisfied with the job Rob has been doing,” he said. “Where we go from here, it’s hard to say.”
Tonight’s event was a far different scene than at the Bergen County Democratic Convention, where Chairman Joe Ferriero easily trounced a last-minute, token challenger to win reelection.
Some of Ortiz’s supporters acknowledged the need for the election, but lamented the infighting that has plagued this party since it lost most of its county-wide clout over the last decade.
Deirdre Woodbyrne, who sought the party’s nod for freeholder earlier this year, said that Republican infighting had made it impossible to capitalize on Democratic divisions.
“There have been squandered opportunities. You had Obama and Hilary, Lautenberg and Andrews, Weinberg and Ferriero – this was an opportunity to unite, and instead we’re challenging a chairman,” she said. “The sad part is we’re not focused on the taxpayers.”
Ortiz supporters point out that in only 10-and-a-half months, he’s brought the party out of debt and even put some cash in its coffers.
Yudin said that he wasn’t expecting miracles in the short amount of time, but he’s running based on some unforgivable decisions Ortiz has made. Most prominently, he said, was his recruitment of Andy Unanue to run for U.S. Senate after the BCRO endorsed Joe Pennacchio for the seat.
“I’m running based on decisions he made that I disagree with,” said Yudin.