Seeking first win since ’77, Democrats refuse to give up on 39th

Republicans have not yet settled on who they’re going to run for assembly in the 39th legislative district, but two Democrats are eager to take on whoever is on the Republican ticket.

John Shahdanian, a labor attorney and Democratic municipal chairman from Old Tappan, and Michael McCarthy, the political director of a stage hands’ union, have both filed to run for the party line in the District 39 convention.

The district, a Republican stronghold where Democrats haven’t won since 1977 despite their dominance in the rest of the county, saw a well-funded but unsuccessful challenge two years ago by Democrats, who spent millions on the state senate campaign of attorney Joseph Ariyan and the assembly campaigns of River Edge Councilwoman Esther Fletcher and Dumont Councilman Carl Manna. Despite the effort, state Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Demarest) and assembly incumbents John Rooney (R-Northvale) and Charlotte Vandervalk (R-Montvale) all won by comfortable margins.

“They got the wheels in motion. I think the tide is turning, and we can do really well,” said Shahdanian.

One Bergen County Democratic insider who worked on the 2007 campaign called it “our Vietnam” and doubted that the local party, let alone the state party, would again pour significant resources into the district – especially when it is still reeling by the indictment of its former chairman, Joe Ferriero. And it’s not yet officially known if Rooney, who last time around was considered the most vulnerable incumbent, will run again. Republican sources say he won’t.

When asked why he’s interested in running with such long odds, Shahdanian, 37, said “maybe it’s because I’m stubborn.”

“The same politicians year in and year out are always reelected. It’s just a matter of automatically pushing the button for people.”

Shahdanian has run unsuccessfully twice for council in Old Tappan — last time against his cousin, Republican MattNalbandian.

“Winning in district 39 is probably easier than winning in Old Tappan itself,” he said.

Coincidentally, Shahdanian, like Ariyan and Bergen County Democratic Chairman Michael Kasparian, is Armenian-American. Members of that tiny but cohesive and politically active community proved to be a reliable fundraising base for Ariyan, donating over $80,000 to his campaign.

McCarthy, for his part, is the son of John J. McCarthy, the former Secretary of the Senate He has been involved in politics since he was eleven years old, when he spearheaded the effort to make the horse the official animal of New Jersey.

“I was the chief lobbyist,” he said.

McCarthy was even present for Cardinale’s swearing in to the state senate in 1982.

At the district’s Democratic convention in 2007, Ariyan beat McCarthy out for the chance to take Cardinale on.

Now, McCarthy said, he can raise a lot of money, especially with his organized labor connections, to beat Vandervalk and whoever she’s running with.

“If they see we’re raising money form organized labor and the resources coming into it, maybe [state Democrats] will look at it and decide to target the district” he said. “They say you win Bergen you win the slate, so hopefully the Governor will look forward to winning in the county.”

Seeking first win since ’77, Democrats refuse to give up on 39th