Passaic County Republicans don’t need an internal war. But they’ve got one.
The latest flare up between leadership factions in the party occurred last Monday, when freeholder candidates Mike Marotta and Jerry Holt held a joint beefsteak dinner fundraiser with Chairman Scott Rumana, who’s also an Assemblyman, at the Brownstone Restaurant in Paterson.
That led Rumana’s critics to charge that he was competing for resources with the cash-strapped freeholder candidates. Rumana, in turn, said that his critics were holdovers from the dark days of the party and puppets of the man who used to control it: Peter Murphy.
Meanwhile, Marotta and Holt are stuck uncomfortably in the middle while they try to campaign against Democratic incumbents Bruce James and Greyson Hannigan.
The beleaguered Passaic County Regular Republican Organization has been in the political wilderness since it lost its last freeholder seats in 2004. The party that once held a lock on the county now doesn’t hold a single county-wide elected office. Even in neighboring Bergen County, where the once powerful Republicans have for years faced a similar predicament, they can at least boast of having a county clerk in office.
This year, the Republicans express cautious optimism. They see an opening with increased taxes and the stench of municipal corruption in the City of Passaic, even if one of their own – former Paterson School Board President Chauncey Brown III, an Assembly candidate last year – was recently indicted.
But now, two factions are battling over the chairmanship while the two freeholder candidates –Marotta and Holt – are stuck in the middle.
The most vocal critic of Rumana is Michael Mecca, a former Freeholder who preceded him as chairman before stepping down for personal reasons in 2006. Mecca complained that Rumana has $74,500 in his Assembly account, despite being in one of the safest districts in the state of New Jersey.
Mecca raised the same protest last year, when he felt that the freeholder candidates were given short shrift by the PCRRO.
Mecca and his allies are happy to let Rumana stay in the Assembly, but as a formerfreeholder who held the chairmanship at the same time, Mecca said that he knows from experience that you shouldn’t do both jobs.
“We’re going to form a group, because this is part of the problem we’re seeing with Scott as Chairman. He’s very selfish and only cares about his own political career,” said Mecca.
That group, a PAC called GOP Strong that plains, is registered to the home address of Peter Murphy, who was convicted in 2001 on three corruption counts. That conviction was overturned in 2003, but Murphy pleaded guilty to one count so that he would not have to face a new trial.
Mecca thought that instead of taking in money for his Assembly account, Rumana should have had his donors’ checks written out to the PCRRO. He also thinks that Rumana should donate the maximum he can by law — $37,000 – from his campaign account to the organization.
Already, the seeds are sewn for a chairmanship challenge. Rumana is up for reelection to the post in June, and at least one rival – Passaic County Young Republicans founder Mike Ramaglia –admits he might be interested in the job.
“It’s frustrating not being able to get this through to this chairman, and his ineffectiveness over the last two-and-a-half years is getting to a boiling point,” said Ramaglia. “The candidates can’t worry about how much money they have to raise. They need to be candidates, to go shake hands and kiss babies… we should have press releases every other day saying this is our plan, this is our platform. This does add to the inner-fighting- but be there for the candidates.”
But Rumana argued that there’s no reason he and the freeholder candidates couldn’t hold a joint fundraiser and – contrary to earlier contentions that he stuck the PCRRO with the bill – he split the cost of the fundraiser with them.
Rumana wasn’t sure what the fundraising totals were for last week’s bash, but estimated that he and the freeholders each took in around $15,000.
“This is just a continuing saga of a convicted felon trying to create problems for the Republican Party,” he said. “This fundraiser was so amazingly successful that they’re knocked on their backside because they know we are just building a great and greater operation that they don’t know what to do.”
Rumana argued that the party has begun to rebuild itself under his chairmanship, and that his critics are intent on bringing it back to the days of its decline under “the old guard.”
“They lost because they weren’t producing, and now we are. They weren’t pulling people back together again. They weren’t raising money. They weren’t trying to put forth a winning program,” he said. “I’m very proud of the fact that we have literally come through with this renewed resurgence, and it feels really good. I guess they’re getting petrified.”
Marotta, the freeholder candidate, backed Rumana up. He noted that it was his idea to invite Rumana – a personal friend – to hold a joint fundraiser with him, and said that criticism for doing so was unfair.
“Mike Mecca has made every attempt to undermine Scott Rumana in every way, shape or form and I don’t know why,” he said. “It undermines our freeholder race. We’re working our tails off. Scott is right there with us.”
Indeed, Mecca said that he was upset to find himself helplessly in the middle of a party leadership struggle when he should be focusing on campaigning against the two Democratic incumbents.
“They can kill each other, but do it after November 4th,” he said.