This year, instability is creeping up on the Dems’ North Jersey sheriffs, especially in Passaic County where the Democrats looked to Sheriff Jerry Speziale for leadership.
In Hudson County, the incumbent Democratic sheriff, Juan Perez, has been pushed across the aisle and will run as a Republican.
The instability ends in Bergen County where Democratic Sheriff Leo McGuire is facing a challenge from Emerson Police Chief Michael Saudino.
McGuire, Bergen’s two-term sheriff, is gregarious and frames his projects as law enforcement innovations. He prides himself on finding creative solutions in initiatives like his prisoner placement program.
“We have so many accomplishments,” McGuire, without a trace of humility, told PolitickerNJ. “I’m viciously fiscally responsible,” he trumpets.
When New Jerseyans see their tax bills, the only thing they can think about the next months is: What the hell am I paying for? Well, Saudino, a Republican, wants the Bergen County taxpayers to know that they’re paying for a photographer to follow the sheriff around on political stopovers and a driver to navigate traffic.
When questioned on the veracity of the charge, McGuire, having just explained tasks that involve prisoners, fugitives, and public dangers, stopped dead in his tracks.
“Did you just hear the enormity of my day?” (He does use a driver and photographer.)
McGuire’s a popular door-to-door campaigner, a stark contrast by many accounts to his opponent. Saudino is mounting his charge in the police offices across Bergen County, garnering support from the police chiefs, and unanimous approval from the police union.
“Support for me has been overwhelming,” Saudino said. “And not all law enforcement. Elected officials, family, friends, neighbors.” But the fear among some Republican supporters is that the list stops there.
In a county with 70 municipalities, the effervescent McGuire may be gaining ground among the sound-bite happy populace more than Saudino, who’s positioning himself as the cops’ pick.
Saudino said the support for McGuire is eroding from under his feet. “They’re tired of the way things are done now,” Saudino said, noting that he has spoken with officers who work under McGuire. “I won’t name names,” he said, but claimed the officers complain about “patronage, assignments, and other things.”
McGuire doesn’t exactly disagree with an undercurrent of disfavor. “I have not made that many friends around here by being a penny pincher,” McGuire said. “I took the office by storm. If you maintain the status quo you cease to evolve.”
He said not being chummy with labor helps when contract negotiations begin. “I’d love to be everybody’s friend,” he said. “(But) if you’re going to be an effective leader and administrator, you’re going to break some glass.”
McGuire also counters with his support from the National Sheriff’s Association.
Patronage is another issue Saudino alleges. It’s a political constant; elected officials double as gatekeepers to employment. And since jobs are at a premium in today’s market, patronage is a trending topic. Just look at the Passaic race for county sheriff. Glass was broken in Passaic – before Speziale fled the scene – over jobs that the Civil Service Commission said exceeded his patronage limit. Speziale even went so far as to threaten a court battle to save the jobs.
McGuire, for his part, does not think patronage is an issue in Bergen County.
“I’m busy finding solutions,” McGuire said. “Those are petty political arguments.”
But that’s not stopping Saudino. He also alleged that McGuire’s unit has, at times, turned down requests for prisoner transports. “Not enough manpower,” he was told.
McGuire said this problem has reared its head – even though he claims “nearly 100 percent” response – and so he proposed a solution: a central county court to remove the need for transport in “perfunctory” procedures.
So the innovation keeps on coming, but Saudino isn’t going away. Even if his questions seem petty next to prison talk.
“Why the sheriff is even at a ribbon cutting ceremony is beyond me,” he said. “Is it a service or a political thing?”
The voters will decide whether it is or not in November. Or whether it even matters.