Who are the most powerful county chairs right now?

George Gilmore, Republican Party chairman, Ocean County

What he has to work with: 338,231 total registered voters

R’s: 100,019

D: 72,429

I’s: 165,783

Take a look at these numbers: In the third district, Republican Jon Runyan: 51,743 or 59.5% to John Adler’s 32,203 or 36.81%. U.S. Rep. Chris Smith crushed his Democratic opponent in Ocean, 74-23%, earning 57,000 votes in the process. More importantly, Gilmore controls the freeholder board, and his two incumbent Republicans on the board won -re-election last week by a nearly 2-1 margin.

But most impressive are the overwhelming countywide numbers Ocean is capable of generating, as demonstrated in the 2009 gubernatorial election when Chris Christie annihilated Jon Corzine: 124,238 (66%) to 53,761 (28%).

Leadership style: Overlord-like. No one tells him what to do in Ocean.

On the horizon: Battling to pick up an additional senate seat given the southward bulge in population, and driving high Republican turnout numbers in 2012 when Christie won’t be on the ballot.


Mark Smith, Democratic Party chairman, Hudson County

What he has to work with: 237,203 total registered voters

D’s: 133,303

R’s: 20,985

I’s: 82,915

People like the mayor of Bayonne, a political disciple of former Mayor (and Department of Community Affairs director) Joe Doria. But the newly selected county chairman has yet to preside over a dominant Democratic election cycle. The snoozefest that was the sheriff’s contest produced 55,515 countywide votes (65%) for Democrat Frank Schillari against 27,409 (32%) for Republican Juan Perez.

Granted, Smith took the scepter of power at a low point. Last year’s election day turnout in Hudson during a gubernatorial election year was 120,017 or 39%. Compare that to Ocean, where 193,186 or 52.06% turned out for the Christie-Corzine election.

In the lead up to his 2012 re-election, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-Hoboken) wanted go-getting state Sen. Brian Stack (D-Union City) to serve as county chairman. Stack didn’t take the job that ultimately fell to Smith, who is well-liked and respected but as yet untested.

Leadership style: Neophyte consensus builder. What the former beat cop lacks in Stack or Sacco-like political domination, he makes up for in street smarts. He also has the close alliance of Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell (D-Bayonne), who’s respected for his political know-how and focus. 

On the horizon: It’s all about Menendez. Next year’s legislative Superbowl will include a 31st District test for incumbent state Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) but otherwise serve as a dry run for 2012. 

Phil Thigpen, Democratic Party chairman, Essex County

What he has to work with: 385,231 total registered voters

D’s: 187,233

R’s: 42,065

I’s: 155,843

Last Tuesday night’s results came in with nary a follow-up story owing to the lopsided nature of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo’s 111, 277-vote (75%) victory over GOP challenger Herbert Glenn 32,663 (22%). Overall turnout wasn’t dominant at 152,336 or 33,38%, but remember, the only election in Essex this year that got covered was the Bloomfield mayor’s race, and even that didn’t generate much buzz beyond the suburban town’s own borders as Ray McCarthy (on the line with DiVincenzo) won re-election. To get an idea of DiVinvcenzo’s power, his non-competitive race generated just seven percent less total turnout than last year’s live or die Jon Corzine struggle, when 184,023 voters went to the polls and handed Corzine a 67% to 28% win over Chris Christie. 

But Essex County’s power projection was felt as at no other time in 2008 with President Barack OBama on the ticket. 320,137 voters (69%) went to vote. Obama destroyed McCain in Essex 76 (240,127) to 23% (73,975).

Leadership style: Low-key. DiVincenzo and North Ward Democratic Leader Steve Adubato provide much of the heft behind the throne and control the lion’s share of freeholder seats, but Thigpen is the kind of peacemaker who has maintained relations in many disparate camps.

On the horizon: Redistricting next year and DiVincenzo’s hunger to defeat state Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-Newark) and state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Roseland) will run Thigpen’s nerves to the breaking point. After all of the intra-party agony next year, he will relish the chance to build for Menendez 2012.  


Joe Oxley, Republican Party chairman, Monmouth County

What he has to work with: 381,069 total registered voters

R’s: 91,848

D’s: 96,156

I’s: 193,065

You like numbers, how about these numbers from 2009: Christie: 129,039; Corzine: 64,672. This was a year after Democrats took 3-2 control of the freeholder board in Monmouth and enjoyed Election Night euphoria as at no other time in their history – just before it all unraveled and steadily trended away from them ever since. Now Amy Mallet remains the lone Democrat on a board where the GOP has consolidated power in the Christie era.

Leadership style: In the shadows. His closed conventions and day job at Scarinci and Hollenbeck have forced some Republicans over here to stubbornly fold their arms on the subject of Oxley. But the Christie tidal wave came at the right time for the chairman, who has enjoyed an uplift and relative suspension of suspicion.

On the horizon: Maintaining an iron grip on the legislative seats next year.


Bob Yudin, Republican Party chairman, Bergen County 

What he has to work with: 487,349 total registered voters; the most of any of these behemoth counties

D’s: 157,817

R’s: 105,558

I’s: 223,974

Not much comes easy to anybody in Bergen County, but Yudin’s freeholder candidates swept last Tuesday and gave the chairman control of the freeholder board. A big win for Yudin and for Republicans. The consolidation of power here in the huge swing county where Corzine narrowly defeated Christie spells trouble for Democrats seeking support in the giant suburb.

Leadership style: Quietly machiavellian. Yudin doesn’t get pushed around by anybody, but Bergen is so big and factionalized that it’s hard for anyone to be dominant.

On the horizon: Redistricting could put a couple of senate seats in play for the Republican chair, and in 2012, Bergen will be the battleground.


Mike Kasparian, Democratic Party chairman, Bergen County

What he has to work with: see Yudin

Blame for the Republican sweep in Bergen County inevitably trails the chairman, who plugged a considerable gap left by former Chairman Joe Ferriero.

Leadership style: Not overly dominant – no one would be, compared to Ferriero. Factionalism is still a big story up here.

On the horzion: keeping his chairmanship.


Jim Beach, Donald Norcross – Camden County Democratic Committee co-chairmen

The duo has the advantage of institutional knowledge within the South Jersey Democratic Party family – and now of perches in the legislature, where both men serve in the state senate. They control the freeholder board and, by virtue of the organization’s reach throughout South Jersey, stand at the vanguard of one of the most potent operations in the state. Most political insiders anticipate that they will be at ground-zero of next year’s legislative battles where the GOP – at the very least – sees opportunities to take back territory in legislative districts 1, 2 and 3.

John Sette, Morris County Republican chair

The veteran chairman controls the freeholder board and serves as party leader in the governor’s home county, a Republican stronghold that is also home to Republican State Chairman Jay Webber and Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce.

Joe Spicuzzo, Middlesex County Democratic chair

Spicuzzo bounced back from last year’s three point lose in the gubernatorial contest to pilot his freeholder and sheriff’s candidates to solid victories in the sprawling Democratic County.

Charlotte DeFilippo, Union County Democratic chair

We have been through the dominant counties, but the veteran DeFilippo controls the Union County freeholder board and follows every poke she receives in the eye (ie, last year’s local loss in Hillside) with a dominant performance elsewhere. Her freeholder candidates cruised to victory last week. Her decision to replace a Plainfield freeholder with a Plainfield councilwoman helped drive turnout beyond normal levels.


John Currie, Passaic County Democratic chair

This could have been Currrie’s political obituary. Republicans swept him last year and stood poised to take control of the county. As it turned out, Currie teamed with U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) to repair a debilitated party apparatus and maintain Democratic Party power. Like DeFilippo, Currie is the last of a breed of strong chairs who operate in mostly dominant fashion. As DeFilippo shares power with state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth), so Currie operates in tandem with Pascrell.

Bill Layton, Burlington County Republican chairman

After a tough 2008, the protege of Glen Paulsen used the Chris Christie wave to help reinforce the county’s Republican fortifications. After losing two freeholders, Layon in 2010 convinced one of them – Chris Brown – to again change parties and beef up the GOP majority on the board, which now stands at 4-1. 

Kevin O’Toole, Essex County Republican chairman

The Cedar Grove senator wields considerable influence as a former chair of the Republican chairs whose radar is tuned in to every corner of the state, and whose deep ties to Democrats by necessity in Essex have paid dividends in terms of softening the opposition and helping alliances, such as that between Gov. Chris Christie and DiVincenzo. Straddling Essex, Passaic and Bergen, O’Toole by virtue of survival keeps close party contacts in all northern centers of power. Who are the most powerful county chairs right now?