In Passaic, it looks increasingly like Berdnik v. Garcia

Already hobbled by the sudden withdrawal from the race of former Sheriff Jerry Speziale, some Passaic County Democrats worry about the selection of a “no name” on the ticket after nearly a decade of superstar Speziale as their candidate.

They also worry about the prospect of a GOP counter-attack, and the possibility that former Undersheriff Felix Garcia, the Republican candidate for sheriff, would step aside for a bigger name candidate, someone like former prosecutor Ronald Fava – or former Paterson Police Chief Larry Spagnola.

When Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie told state Sen. John Girgenti that he intended to go “in another direction” in his sheriff’s search, he had drawn a bead on Clifton Police Lieutenant Richard Berdnik, according to sources.

Currie likes Berdnik. U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) likes Berdnik; and so the Clifton cop remains the favorite for a County Courthouse unveiling next Wednesday afternoon. That imminent news sparks Dem Party panic that Republicans could subsequently swap out Garcia and put a known quantity Italian-American on the ticket. 

It won’t happen, according to several Republican sources.

While Latino voters outnumber Italians in Passaic – 50,792 to 32,949 – the trouble for Passaic County Sheriff’s candidate Felix Garcia is that most of them are registered Democrats in the cities, voters he’s trying to tap with a more aggressive urban outreach than usual by a GOP candidate here.

It’s uphill all the way for Garcia.

But sources say he’s made enough of an effort at this point to connect, that the GOP would risk infuriating supporters of key Latino communities if the party suddenly removed support for Garcia and plugged in Fava or Spagnola. 

Democrats who back Berdnik, meanwhile, say he may be largely unknown, but that his rep as a cop is so good that he would instantly lock up Police Benevolent Association (PBA) support. If he is not a rock star like Speziale, the fact that he may be the opposite – just a cop’s cop on the beat with no fanfare – may be his strongest selling point, argue Democrats who back him to take on Garcia. In Passaic, it looks increasingly like Berdnik v. Garcia