Freeholder David Ganz is among Bergen County’s elected officials who have called on indicted Democratic Chairman Joe Ferriero to resign by January 15. But he does not feel that the legal opinion issued last night by the party’s counsel, Paul Kaufman, provides a legitimate way to force Ferriero out.
“I’m only practicing law for 30 years, but I think it’s a weak opinion. What he basically says is there’s nothing that authorizes it, but here’s how you do it, and then drops a footnote regarding the Attorney General who reaches the opposite conclusion,” said Ganz. “What he’s doing, in my view, is trying to take a conclusion that a lot of people want – maybe nearly everyone wants – and writing a legal opinion to justify it.”
The gist of Kaufman’s conclusion is that although no clauses in the bylaws of the Bergen County Democratic Organization (BCDO) address the removal of a sitting chairman, the committee could still legally call a vote on his removal.
Ganz felt that the opinion appeared to have been written with a conclusion already in mind.
“My view is a very simplistic one. If somebody is doing something that’s wrong, you don’t do a greater wrong in order to make things right,” said Ganz. “The rule of law says that you follow the rule of law, and if there is a problem with the way the bylaws are structured, amend the bylaws.”
But amending the bylaws would likely be a messy process that would take at least six months, dragging the question of what to do about Ferriero well into the next election cycle.
Ganz’s stance on the opinion is the latest intra-party disagreement on the Ferriero question.
The BCDO has been racked with confusion, frustration and infighting since Ferriero was indicted on eight corruption counts in December. Immediately after, prominent members like U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-Fair Lawn) and state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) called for his ouster. That led Ganz and several other public officials, including Sheriff Leo McGuire and County Executive Dennis McNerney, to call for patience. Last week, however, every count-wide elected official agreed that Ferriero ought to step down by January 15, barring a total exoneration – something almost impossible in that short a time frame.
Even if a county committee meeting is called sometime next month with the aim of ousting Ferriero, there is no guarantee the 1,100-plus members will vote in favor of it.
Some of those members owe their county jobs to Ferriero, including influential district leaders, non-elected executive committee members and municipal chairs, a group that Loretta Weinberg – a long-time Ferriero foe – describes as the “second echelon” of party leadership.
“With the elected officials, if there were some minor disagreements about how it will be carried out, there was universal agreement that Ferriero could no longer be our chairman, the second echelon had not gotten the message that the king is dead,” said Weinberg. “Most of them are county employees. And they never have meetings. That was the modus operandi — don’t ever get people together so they don’t start having discussions.”
Weinberg did not voice any objection to the opinion and said that she supports calling together a meeting if Ferriero does not resign by the middle of next month. Then, she said, the party can amend its bylaws to roll back what she felt were abuses under Ferriero. Then the party – still dominant in Bergen County but possibly in danger of losing ground – may be able to start digging itself out if members can get beyond their awe of Ferriero.
“It was like a cult of personality,” said Weinberg. “To me it’s the Wizard of Oz — the guys with the no courage, the no heart and the no brain being scared of [Ferriero].”
Rothman, who in last week’s executive committee meeting contended that it was legal to call a convention for removal immediately, also agreed with Kaufman’s ruling.
“I agree with his legal opinion, and now it is up to the rank and file of the BCDO to decide if they want to turn the page on Joe Ferriero and his brand of leadership,” he said.
“The members of the BCDO most assuredly want to continue the success that the party has had for the last 10 years, but do not want to do so given the cloud that hangs over Joe Ferriero as to his practices and extraneous activities.”
Rothman acknowledged that convincing committee members to vote to remove Ferriero will not be easy, but “in the end, they’ll have to decide what kind of organization they want to be a part of.”
Right now, two activists are vying to replace Ferriero. There’s Richard “Buzzy” Dressell, a labor leader who has come down on Weinberg’s side in intra-party disputes before, and developer Michael Kasparian, a close ally of Ferriero, whose law firm represented his company.