Bergen Dems face prospect of a competitive convention

For the first time in recent memory, it is possible that the Bergen County Democratic convention – set this year for Thursday, Feb. 25 — will not have a predetermined outcome. 

There are eight Democratic candidates seeking three freeholder seats, including incumbents James Carroll and Elizabeth Calabrese, who are not expected to have any trouble winning the party nod. But there are six non-incumbents who want to replace retiring incumbent Tomas Padilla: former Freeholder Julie O’Brien, Northvale Mayor John Hogan, Westwood Mayor John Birkner, Maywood Mayor Tim Eustace, former Ridgefield Councilman Rob Kovic, Bergen County College Trustee Cid Wilson, Dr. Pargellan McCall, a retired NJCU professor, and Cliffside Park Green Committee Chairman Sebastian Belfon.

Some – like Hogan, O’Brien and Birkner – are considered more likely to win than others.  But even though Hogan appears to have the endorsement of county Democratic chairman Michael Kasparian, according to four people with knowledge of the internal party machinations, there is no clear favorite. 

Sheriff Leo McGuire and County Executive Dennis McNerney are not facing any intra-party challenges yet.

Under the regime of former Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero, that rarely happened — save for the special election convention for state senate in District 37.  Conventions were a mere formality.  Ferriero made a choice and most of the county committee members abided by it.

“When was the last time it happened that we even had candidates that  numbered more than the positions that were open?” said state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck).  “That’s what Ferriero used to do more than anything else, just talk people out of running so there was no competition at the convention.”

But, both by design and circumstance, Kasparian does not run the party like Ferriero, who resigned several months after his indictment on corruption charges. 

“I came in by saying that I thought the process needed to be more transparent, I thought the process needed to be more accessible to those who are not necessarily party insiders, and I think that’s exactly what we’re seeing,” he said in a phone interview.

Kasparian also denied supporting Hogan over any other candidates.

“I support him, but I support everyone who’s on this ticket,” he said. 

But even if Kasparian does support Hogan, that does not necessarily mean he will be the party’s choice.  In fact, other players are backing different candidates – at least as of this moment.  For instance, state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-ridge), who could not immediately be reached immediately, supports Birkner.

Even though there is no predetermined outcome, Weinberg — one of the few Bergen County Democrats who criticized Ferriero’s autocratic style – said the process is by no means transparent.

“It’s not set up for anybody to find out anything.  You have one candidates’ night that’s held at some point where all the candidates appear and all the county committee members can come,” she said.  “And beyond that, you come, vote and leave.”

Bergen Dems face prospect of a competitive convention