The chronically divided Bergen County Republican Organization has united around County Clerk Kathleen Donovan’s county executive campaign, but at least one prominent conservative has not taken warmly to it.
“I consider Kathe Donovan to be the Dede Scozzafava of New Jersey. There’s no more far left liberal running as a Republican than Kathe Donovan,” said former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, referring to moderate upstate New York Republican assemblywoman who last year suspended her special election congressional campaign after a challenge from the right doomed her chances.
Lonegan, who sought he Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2005 and 2009 and runs the New Jersey chapter of the anti-tax organization Americans for Prosperity, said that the Bergen GOP only rallied around Donovan because “they really had no choice.”
“There was a desperate behind the scenes effort to find another candidate, but nobody would run,” he said. “I was asked to run. My interest didn’t lie there.”
Donovan, a moderate former assemblywoman, briefly a GOP state chair, kicked off her campaign this month on a fiscally conservative note, vowing to cut the size of county government and lower taxes.
Donovan’s references to putting “taxpayers first,” raised some eyebrows among Lonegan supporters at the rally. It’s the title of Lonegan’s 2007 book, and he used it as his gubernatorial campaign slogan.
“I certainly don’t have a copyright on the slogan, but it’s kind of funny coming off my campaign in New Jersey,” he said. “I really hyped that brand, so to speak. It was on all my literature, signs, radio and TV spots, my book. I don’t think it was a mistake. But hey, God bless her.”
Donovan and Lonegan have a history of bad blood. When the Bogota council voted to put a non-binding resolution on the ballot to make English the borough’s official language, she blocked it, citing a legal opinion from attorney Jack Carbone saying that state law did not grant the borough authority to act on such matters.
Although he acknowledged that Donovan could win in November given what so far is shaping up to be a politically environment favorable to Republicans, Lonegan blamed the Republican Party for not trying harder to recruit more conservative candidates.
“The Republican Party, especially in Bergen County, has not learned its lesson. At the end of the day you need people who are philosophically and ideologically committed to conservative principles,” he said.
Bergen County Republican Chairman Bob Yudin, who used to be at odds with Donovan but has backed her candidacy, took exception to that comment.
“I’ve known Steve for a long time, and I personally like Steve. But the Republican Party, in order to be competitive, both in the State of New Jersey and in Bergen County, must be able to appeal to a wide range of individuals, of voters,” he said.
Yudin said that “politics is the art of compromise,” and that the GOP has too often lost by running candidates who pass a narrow litmus test.
“Steve could not even win Bergen County – his own county – against Chris Christie. I’m tired of losing races. I want to see resurgence in the Republican Party,” he said. “I have received overwhelming support for what I have done in uniting the Republican Party in Bergen County — overwhelming support. I can’t tell you how overwhelming it has been.”