HACKENSACK – After a meeting that stretched over three hours, the Bergen County Democratic Organization’s executive committee called on indicted Chairman Joe Ferriero to resign by January 15th unless he is exonerated on all eight of the corruption charges he faces before then.
That was not what U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman was hoping for. He made a motion calling on Ferriero to resign immediately which was overwhelmingly rejected, with only three of the 40 members present voting in favor. Instead, a committee member Rothman did not want to identify motioned that Ferriero should resign by January 15th. That motion passed with 25 members voting yes, nine voting no and six abstaining.
“I did vote against it, because I thought that he should resign immediately,” said Rothman.
Right now, members of the executive committee are unsure how they will force Ferriero to resign if he is unwilling to, since the organization’s bylaws do not provide for removing a chairman. Several elected officials said today that they are in the process of figuring out how to force the resignation, if it comes to that.
Ferriero was indicted in September along with former BCDO general counsel Dennis Oury on eight corruption counts. Immediately afterwards, he took a leave of absence as chairman, although he was still the de facto party leader in the run up to last month’s elections. But closer-than-average margins of victories over the Republican county candidates – despite the wave created by Barack Obama’s candidacy – made many party insiders worry that Ferriero’s legal woes were taking a toll on the party.
Ferriero showed up at the beginning of the meeting to plead his case and left before the committee addressed his chairmanship. Several of those present said his appeal boiled down to two words: “Trust me.” He enumerated the ways in which he built the party over the last two years — turning a minority party into the dominant one — and insisted that he would never do anything to hurt the party.
Sources present said that Ferriero refused to resign now, but that he recognized that he could not go to trial in September and remain as chairman, for fear of damage it could to the organization’s candidates.
Ferriero slipped in and out of the meeting without offering any comment to the press.
The members of the committee came to the meeting wondering not only about what the outcome would be, but whether the gathering itself would devolve into a fiasco similar to a September meeting, when an argument about the future of Ferriero led to Rothman and Surrogate Mike Dressler exchanging obscenities. Perhaps in anticipation of a similar incident, BCDO staffers pulled down the shades of the headquarters building and taped campaign signs over its glass doors with.
By all accounts, however, members at the meeting maintained civility.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, whose own rivalry with Ferriero always seemed to worry him more than anything the local Republican Party did, said that she was pleased with the outcome of the meeting, even if she was one of the three members to vote in favor of Rothman’s motion.
“I think that we struck a good balance which represented the majority of those present,” said Weinberg, who added that she had instructed the municipal chairs from her district to inform the rank and file county committee members tonight’s developments.
Sheriff Leo McGuire, who in September defended Ferriero amid growing calls for his resignation, said that tonight’s outcome was the best one possible.
“The result of tonight has the executive board unified in moving this party forward the best it can under the circumstances,” he said.