When Jon Corzine was held to 77% of the vote in the 2009 Democratic primary against a former Glen Ridge mayor with no organization or money, a Guttenberg man claimed to have witnessed the U.S. government planning the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and a designer of coffee mugs from Phillipsburg, it was viewed as an indication that the incumbent governor had a problem with his base. Bergen County Executive Dennis C. McNerney might have a similar problem.
At the Bergen County Democratic convention last night — where there was a contested race for an open Freeholder seat — a full 40% of the Democratic County Committee did not turn out to vote. Of the 829 elected Democratic committee members who did attend, 119 (14%) did not vote for McNerney, who was unopposed. The vote was by machine.
Also troubling for Democrats was that Freeholder Director James Carroll ran 67 votes behind another incumbent, Elizabeth Calabrese, and 28 votes behind Northvale Mayor John Hogan, who had the support of Democratic County Chairman Michael Kasparian. Carroll might have had a larger problem had he not promised to drop his simultaneous re-election bid for Mayor of Demarest last week. Carroll, Calabrese and Hogan were the ordained candidates of the party leadership; major challengers, like former Freeholder Julie O’Brien, Westwood Mayor John Birkner, and Maywood Mayor Tim Eustace, dropped out when it became clear that Kasparian was pushing Hogan.
The conventional wisdom is that there in some uneasiness among a group of Bergen Democratic leaders who have not seen the party change much since the 2008 departure of County Chairman Joseph Ferriero, who has since been convicted on federal corruption charges. Earlier in the day, five-term Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood) beat up on Ferriero’s handpicked successor, Kasparian, for not delivering on a list of promised reforms. “He was brought in to be a reformer of the party,” Johnson said of Kasparian. “But I have not seen much action in regard to him being the change agent the party needs.
There has been speculation for months that Democrats might try to replace McNerney on the ticket, possibly with Surrogate Michael Dressler or Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood), but at least for now it appears the party is sticking with incumbent. Republicans, splintered for the last few years, have for the most part united behind five-term County Clerk Kathleen Donovan. Internal polls conducted for both parties show Donovan leading McNerney, a victory that would return control of county government back to the GOP for the first time since 2002.