HACKENSACK — As former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie made his entrance to the Bergen County Republicans’ headquarters for the party's convention tonight, Eleanor Nissley got up from her seat at the front door and greeted him with a few pats on the cheek.
It was a gesture that few but the “grande dame” of the Bergen County Republican Organization – as columnist Charles Stile put it — could pull off. Nissley, a party stalwart, was the county’s Republican State Committeewoman for four decades before being knocked off by a 20-something Collette Campbell four years ago. Tonight, Nissley reclaimed that post.
Nissley got 502 votes (63%) to Mary Conway's 242 (31%) and Pearl Spector's 48 (6%). Conway was backed by BCRO Chairman Bob Yudin.
Long-time GOP activist Ben Focarino took over the Republican State Committeeman state without any opposition.
Nissley said she ran again because Christie was running.
“I’ve known him for along time. I figured this year we’re going to get us a governor, and I want to be part of the team,” she said.
The race between the three women was civil.
The drama, however, was between Nissley and Yudin, who initially tried to appoint Conway to position to fill in for Campbell, who resigned earlier this year, and automatically give her the party line.
Yudin, who had to rescind the appointment, held that he did have the authority to award the party line to Conway, but decided to open it up to a vote for the sake of transparency.
Nissley disagreed, and she remains upset at Yudin.
“What he did was interpret the bylaws his own way and decide he would put someone else in,” she said.
Conway, who works as a marketing coordinator in Mahwah, was encouraged to run by Yudin. She did not realize she would face a fight. Due to a death in her family, she was not able to run an active campaign, limiting herself to one letter to county committee members.
“Had I known, I would have probably had banners with my name on them around this room. I’d probably be dressed in neon, like, ‘Vote for Mary,’” she said.
State Sen. Gerald Cardinale, whose endorsement tends to carry a lot of weight at party functions, remained neutral in the race.
“After tonight, nobody will know who the state committeewoman is,” he said.