With a week to go, Bergen what-ifs begin

What if Dennis McNerney loses to Kathe Donovan?

At least some of the blame, various Democratic sources in Bergen said, will be with Bergen County Democratic Organization Chairman Michael Kasparian.

His predecessor, Joe Ferriero, changed the entire political landscape in Bergen County, shifting GOP mountains and delivering browbeaten Dems from obscurity.

His tête-à-tête with the law aside, Ferriero was a political superstar with fundraising prowess. Remarkably, he was able to keep Bergen’s 70 municipalities in near lockstep, observers said.

But with savage economic times and anti-establishment emotionalism spreading the nation, can Kasparian bear all the blame if fundraising is down and party unity is held together by strings? McNerney’s own record and the scandals that have hit the party will also play a role in next week’s outcome.

“My tenure as chairman has been focused on my elections,” Kasparian said today. “My predecessor’s tenure has absolutely no impact whatsoever on the manner I conduct myself and the organization.”

Kasparian was elected this summer for a two year term, so he’ll likely continue through another freeholder election in 2011, into 2012.

“Michael Kasparian stepped up a couple of years ago when the party was in turmoil,” said party insider Joe Ariyan. “He’s worked had to keep the party together, implementing ethics training and re-electing Dennis McNerney as county executive.”

Kasparian was Ferriero’s choice to secede him, sources said, with one individual recalling Ferriero making calls on Kasparian’s behalf to committee chairs trying to gauge and rally support.

“There was always a sneaky suspicion that Ferriero engineered that election,” said Rocco Mazza, former BCDO executive director and Ferriero adversary, who is backing Donovan over McNerney this year.

At one point in the process, state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) was advocating for Kasparian as well, sources said.

“Raising campaign resources in this tough economic environment is difficult,” Sarlo said. “Right now, everybody should be focused on winning the county exec race.”

But with two losses on his resume from last year – Republican Freeholders Rob Hermansen and John Driscoll – a McNerney defeat might be the nail in Kasparian’s coffin. Granted, the freeholder race was during the Ferriero trial, but a loss is a loss, especially to detractors.

“He’s not learned anything about the political environment in which he functions,” said one ranking Democrat.

There are no mechanisms for removal of a chairman in BCDO bylaws, but a Democratic insider said all it would take is the threat of a no-confidence vote from Democratic committee chairs next year to induce famous last words, “I’m stepping down to focus on my business/spend more time with my family/pursue other ventures.”

Even if McNerney wins, two sources claimed, Kasparian may still be on the rocks – some inside the party are already eyeing replacements.

“Dennis McNerney is going to win, and it’s going to be a referendum on Michael Kasparian,” Ariyan said.

Kasparian told PolitickerNJ, “Any Democrat today that’s talking about the chairmanship’s election (in 2012) has lost their sense of propriety to the extent that our priorities right now are the five elections (in November).”

According to sources, should Kasparian’s seat become vacant, several players in Bergen will want a say in replacing him, including state Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck); Sarlo, who’s also mayor of Wood-Ridge; Sheriff Leo McGuire, assuming he’s reelected on Nov. 2; and Ferriero’s remaining standard bearers in the party. Maybe even Ferriero himself some said. With a week to go, Bergen what-ifs begin