HAWTHORNE – The leading Democratic Party contender to replace Passaic County Sheriff Jerry Speziale is state Sen. John Girgenti (D-Hawthorne), according to party sources, but a vacationing Girgenti doesn’t know if he wants the job.
Down at the Jersey Shore this week, Girgenti told sources he’s “leaning against it,” while the party power structure, including Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) and others continue to lean in the other direction – on Girgenti.
It’s already been a turbulent year for the veteran state senator, who chairs the Law and Public Safety Committee. He lost control of the local Democratic Committee in Hawthorne and surrendered his seat as chairman to former staffer (and Garden State Equality activist) Jeff Gardner.
Assured by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) he won’t be tampered with, Girgenti has nonetheless also endured the steady buzz of redistricting talk. Born in Paterson, he lives in neighboring leafy burgh Hawthorne, which Republicans at their most aggressive would want to cut into some other configuration come March of next year.
But forget the GOP.
Even if he stays in the 35th District as it’s currently constructed, Girgenti would likely face a primary.
And Gardner’s probably the least of his worries.
District behemoth Paterson – with a new mayor in Jeff Jones – probably wouldn’t miss a chance to run someone against the 35th’s aging white male.
So whether it’s the Republicans, Hawthorne or Paterson, it’s an all-around Girgenti jam-up.
Here’s the party’s play with him right now: he runs for sheriff for the abruptly departed Speziale, and gets a back door out of his troubles in the process and lands a six figure gig.
And he gets to be a hero: the steady hand come in to literally pin on the star as party savior in the aftermath of the electric – and, as it turns out, unpredictable – Speziale.
Undeniable upside for the party stunned by Speziale’s sudden resignation for a job at Port Authority: Girgenti has $342,298 in the bank with just ten weeks left until Election Day, he plays with up-county voters. (i.e., he has a vowel on the end of his name), and has been a name on a lawn sign for three decades.
As one party member put it, in a run against GOP candidate Felix Garcia, Girgenti could run in his slippers and win.
But he doesn’t know.
He doesn’t think so.
“I want to run,” the senator told one party member as recently as this week, and he didn’t mean in the sheriff’s race.
He means 2011 senate.
Should Girgenti not summon the requisite fire-in-the-belly for a run at the sheriff’s post, there are still eight to ten other people in the mix, including Ed Dembrowski, the recently retired undersheriff; Bergen County Chief Michael Bradley, Clifton Police Officer Richard Berdnik of Wayne.