Jersey City incinerator chief mulls Assembly bid

The big race to watch in Jersey City next year is for mayor, but the politics of that contest are

The big race to watch in Jersey City next year is for mayor, but the politics of that contest are already spilling out into the legislature.

The recent buzz is that Jersey City Incinerator Authority CEO Oren Dabney is being positioned for an Assembly run in District 31 by State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, who herself is said to be considering a mayoral bid next year.

Reached for comment yesterday, Dabney wouldn’t commit one way or the other, but admitted that he’s mulling the possibility.

“I’ll do anything possible that’s going to benefit the city of Jersey City, period,” he said. “I haven’t made any decisions on anything at this point. So if anyone is giving information such as that I must be well-liked.”

Dabney has been CEO of the incinerator authority for six years, and has spent 26 years there altogether. He also serves as a commissioner on the Hudson County Improvement Authority.

Cunningham is considered as one of the main threats to Mayor Jerramiah Healy’s incumbency. The Mayor’s recent appointment of Cunningham’s chief advisor, Joe Cardwell, to a position on the Municipal Utilities Authority that includes health benefits was widely considered by political insiders as a way to satiate Cunningham in order to avoid a challenge.

Some insiders speculate that another one of Cunningham’s conditions for not-running would be for Healy to withdraw the Hudson County Democratic Organization’s (HCDO) support from Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith in next June’s mayoral primary and give it to Dabney (Cunningham and Smith, who have traditionally been adversaries, formed an uneasy alliance on last year’s legislative ticket). That may not seem like a tough decision for Healy, since Smith is also considering running for mayor. But, if he wants to avoid the headache, one way of for Healy to keep Smith out of the mayor’s race could be a guarantee of HCDO support.

Neither Healy nor Cunningham could be reached for comment. Dabney wouldn’t say an unkind word about Smith – or anyone else, for that matter.

“I don’t have a problem with anyone at all.”

Smith, for his part, said that he’s been able to count on Dabney’s help in past elections, and wouldn’t begrudge him a challenge for his Assembly seat – if he does run for reelection.

“I know him very well. I was very supportive of him receiving the position he has when he received it under the (former mayor Glenn) Cunningham Administration. He worked and helped me with regard to elections,” said Smith.

But as friendly as those two sound, early attacks on a potential Dabney candidacy are already taking shape. Former Mayor Gerry McCann, who currently serves on the school board, lost his job as special projects manager at the incinerator authority in 2004, after Dabney eliminated it.

McCann, who was forced from the mayor’s office in 1992 after a federal fraud conviction unrelated to his office, never raised a stink about losing that political appointment. But he claimed that Dabney has a major political liability that will make it impossible for him to run.

“Oren Dabney lives in Plainfield, New Jersey. He can’t fake it because he uses a city vehicle every day to go home, and his wife and kids are in Plainfield. Now if he would want to fake it all, he’ll be prosecuted, because too many people know it,” he said.

McCann also noted that the campaign volunteer who made headlines last year in Sandra Cunningham’s State Senate race because he was a convicted sex offender was hired by Dabney.

“I’m sure that will be an issue in the campaign,” he said.

Dabney, however, disputed the notion that he lives in Plainfield.

“That’s not true. I’m not going to touch it any further than that,” he said.

Dabney later added that he owns a two-family home in Jersey City where he lives with his family. He owns property in Plainfield and other parts of the state as well, he said.

“I must be a threat to someone for them to give you negative information,” he said.

Jersey City incinerator chief mulls Assembly bid