The Hudson County Democratic Organization signaled countywide unity last night with a unanimous vote to fill Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone’s vacated 31st District seat.
Blessed by HCDO chair and Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith, Jason O’Donnell, 39, the Bayonne Democratic Committee Chairman, swept the county headcount and will assume the office relinquished by Chiappone, who pleaded guilty last month to doctoring campaign finance reports.
The 31st District works its way from Bayonne into Jersey City, and two Jersey City Democrats -Joe Conte and Pat McCarthy- threw their names in the mix but never had backing from State Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City).
“It’s respect,” Jersey City Councilman Bill Gaughan said after the voting concluded at P.S. 14 in the Peninsula City. “It’s traditionally a Bayonne seat.”
When the county is at war, Gaughan said, anything can happen; but he said the move shows the muddy political waters have calmed along the Gold Coast.
After taking over as HCDO chair, Smith didn’t need to do much muscle-flexing to make this appointment happen.
A Hudson County source confirmed that even though Conte and McCarthy didn’t stand a chance of swiping the seat from O’Donnell (especially without Cunningham), they may have been shopping for a legislative aide post under O’Donnell.
The source said neither were given anything, and Smith may be losing patience with a rapidly deteriorating Jersey City power base.
O’Donnell hopes to be sworn in as soon as next week, but was happy for a unified front tonight.
Following a turbulent year, O’Donnell said the vote heralded “absolute unity.” Referring to the corruption scandals that swept across Hudson County last year, O’Donnell pulled a straight-faced Alfred E. Neuman: “What shake up?”
“It’s a signal to the rest of the state,” the fire captain said. O’Donnell is on leave from the fire department and working as one of Smith’s city directors.