Democratic Bergen County Executive Dennis C. McNerney is girding for a tough race against Republican County Clerk Kathleen Donovan, who so far appears to have a clear path to the GOP nomination to run against him for the county’s top post.
But McNerney says he’s no stranger to a challenge.
“In 1998 I ran for freeholder and it was a 7-0 Republican freeholder board. In 2001, I ran again and won but my running mates lost. And then the next day, I got up and ran for county executive. So I’ve had nothing but tough elections and winning,” said McNerney. “My wife Cathy supports this race, too, so that’s important.”
McNerney won his first term in 2002 against then-state Sen. Henry McNamara (R-Wyckoff) in a relatively close race. In 2006, he easily won reelection over Republican Todd Caliguire.
But Donovan, the top county-level vote getter in in 2008, an otherwise favorable year for Democrats, and a 20-year incumbent, is expected to be a formidable opponent.
And McNerney has lost his staunch political ally: former Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero, who was convicted on three corruption counts in October. Ferriero, a prolific fundraiser, helped raise the millions of dollars McNerney spent on his two campaigns.
Still, McNerney does not think his campaign will be tainted by Ferriero’s conviction.
“Look at the former Republican chairman, Berek Don. A convicted felon and he was the Bergen County Republican chairman under Kathe. I guess you have to ask her that question,” said McNerney, referring to Don’s 1999 guilty plea to, among other things, illegally funneling cash into former U.S. Sen. Robert Torricelli’s (D-Englewood) campaign account.
When asked what parts of his record he plans to emphasize in his campaign, McNerney said “providing good services to the people of Bergen County and what they have come to expect.”
He also said that he would be running with a “dream team” ticket underneath him that will include Sheriff Leo McGuire and Freeholders Jim Carroll and Elizabeth Calabrese.
“I’m just going to run a strong campaign and I do have a track record to run on. It’s really quality of life,” said McNerney.
The race has not begun, but an issue has already come up: The Record’s scrutiny Bergen County Improvement Authority’s Municipal Banc — a program that McNerney promoted heavily as county executive. In an investigative report last week, The Record detailed towns generating interest on unused loans they took out from the bank, and unnecessary or incorrect fees generated from its loans.
McNerney, however, said the loan decisions in the report were made on local levels and that many towns, including Republican ones, made use of the program.
“This is the exact same thing that the Morris County government does. So no, I don’t think there’s an issue there,” he said.