Teaneck Councilman to challenge Johnson, Huttle at Dem convention

Teaneck Councilman Adam Gussen, a critic of the Democratic splinter group headed up by state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), plans to seek an Assembly seat against Weinberg’s allies in the District 37 Democrats’ convention next month.

“I believe by and large the problems in New Jersey today are the result of the collective product of our legislators, and we cannot fix the problems with the people and the thinking that caused the problems,” said Gussen in a phone interview with PolitickerNJ.com.

Gussen said that he has filed to take on incumbents Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Fair Lawn) and Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood).

The convention, where county committee members from the eleven towns that comprise the legislative district will choose who will get the party line in the June primary, is planned for Wednesday, March 11th.

Gussen said that he will not run in the primary if he does not win, and that he’s signed an affidavit to that effect. Johnson and Huttle both said they refused to sign the affidavit when it was presented to them, since at the time they were not convinced the convention would be fair.

Gussen called Johnson a hypocrite for using “rhetoric about reform, transparency and open government, and yet you have someone representing the district who is a triple dipper, a dual office-holder and has financially supported Lyndon LaRouche.”

Johnson is a former police officer, sheriff and undersheriff. He is serving one term on the Englewood Council that expires at the end of this year, and has said he will not run for reelection.

Johnson made $1,850 in donations to LaRouche, a controversial figure many see as an extremist and anti-semite, in 2005 and 2006 after being solicited by a volunteer who Johnson said told him the donations were meant to expose illegal Bush Administration practices. It became a campaign issue when Republican state senate candidate Clara Nibot revealed them in a press release in 2007. Johnson apologized at the time, saying that the donations were a mistake and that he did not know about LaRouche’s controversial history.

Gussen went on to call criticize Huttle for her husband Frank’s employer, DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick, Cole & Wisler, one of the state’s most politically powerful law firms.

“As a councilman in Teaneck I pushed for the motion to introduce what I believe is the most restrictive anti-pay to play ordinance in the state” said Gussen. “I have heard [Huttle] referred to as the queen of pay to play…. Connect the dots between a former freeholder and an assemblyperson and a spouse who is a significant partner in the biggest pay-to-play law firm. It’s not just coincidence.”

Johnson disputed the triple dipper accusation, noting that he no longer works for any law enforcement agency.

“As for change, I believe that the Weinberg/Johnson/Huttle team brings about change in the way people think about Democrats in Bergen County. Because of the stand we’ve taken for the past 8 years, in my case, on demanding that the Bergen County Democratic Organization become more transparent and expose this pay to play system that was in place by the chair.”

Huttle said that she’s co-sponsored virtually every ethics bill that’s been introduced during her time in Trenton, and listed five recent ethics bills that she’s the prime sponsor of.

“I’ve always been an advocate for good government, open government, and my pieces of legislation are proof,” she said. “As far as DeCotiis, that’s all political fodder.”

Johnson and Huttle said they were initially told February 9th was the filing deadline with the BCDO, and were nonplussed to learn this month that it had been changed to yesterday. As a unifying gesture, newly elected chairman Michael Kasparian has said that he will not field a primary challenge against Huttle and Johnson, both longtime critics of former Chairman Joe Ferriero.

“Is it ineptness or game playing? I don’t know yet. We’ll see,” said Huttle.

Although he has been aligned in the past with former Teaneck Councilman/Bergen County Improvement Authority Assistant Executive Director Elnatan Rudolph, who was considered a Ferriero protégé, Gussen said that he has no history or ties with Ferriero.

“I have absolutely no connection to Joe Ferriero. Anyone who says otherwise, I challenge them to provide evidence. I have met the man less than a handful of times in public, social environments,” said Gussen. “I’ve been to Loretta Weinberg’s office twice, which is two more times than I’ve been to Joe Ferriero’s office. To paint me with the brush of Joe Ferriero is absurd.”

Teaneck Councilman to challenge Johnson, Huttle at Dem convention