Don't expect Republicans to compete in the race for Essex County Executive, as long as two-term incumbent Joseph DiVincenzo wins the Democratic primary. The GOP County Chairman, State Sen. Kevin O'Toole (R-Cedar Grove) enjoys an alliance with Newark political leader Stephen Adubato, Sr., who is DiVincenzo's mentor. Republicans are unlikely to win Essex anyway, and prefer to put their financial resources into Bergen County, where Democratic County Executive Dennis C. McNerney is vulnerable.
But if DiVincenzo were to lose the Democratic nomination, O'Toole could become Adubato's safety net. That's how the Republicans won the Exec post in 1990: when it became clear that organization Democrats were prepared to bail on incumbent Peter Shapiro, Republicans pulled their candidate, former Assemblyman Carl Orechio (R-Nutley), and replaced him with Democrat-turned-Republican Nicholas Amato, who had spent the last fifteen years as the Essex County Surrogate. The GOP replaced Amato as their Surrogate candidate with Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-Republican Earl Harris, former Newark City Council President who had been acquitted on federal corruption charges three years earlier. Amato and Harris both won, easily.
Harris started his career as a Republican, becoming one of the first African Americans to serve on the Essex County Board of Freeholders when he won in 1963. He did not seek re-election in 1966, instead challenging U.S. Rep. Peter Rodino (D-Newark). He lost 64%-33%. Harris later switched to the Democratic Party and won a City Council seat in 1970, running on a ticket with mayoral candidate Kenneth Gibson. In 1974, he became the first African American to serve as City Council President. He lost a bid for mayor against Gibson in 1982; he and the incumbent were both under indictment at the time.In 1985, Harris was among a group of prominent Democrats to endorse Republican Gov. Thomas Kean for a second term against Shapiro.