As Bergen Democrats regroup, Kasparian tries to quell dissent

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Bergen County Democratic Organization Chairman Michael Kasparian is facing pressure from inside his party, but the Hohokus developer and new-look party boss isn’t budging.

“My term runs through June of 2012,” he said through a spokesperson.

Kasparian has cancelled two or three executive sessions in a row for the county Democratic organization, a move his detractors are calling a retreat following the clean sweep of five offices last month by the County Executive-elect Kathe Donovan led GOP.

State Sens. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) and Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) are not backing Kasparian and may try to rally enough committee chairs to smoke out the post-Joe Ferriero party leader.

But Kasparian might have one card left to play.

Kasparian beat out labor leader Buzz Dressell for the post last year after fundraising magnet and fearless Democratic leader Ferriero resigned under corruption charges.

At the time, Sarlo’s name was also shopped by U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-Fair Lawn), as at least an interim replacement.

But Kasparian, a capable fundraiser, won the job and was given a two year contract this summer with the BCDO.

From the beginning, his party support was iffy, according to insiders. After two losses last year, it dwindled.

The sweep this year isn’t being laid on Kasparian’s shoulders, according to sources close to local Democratic committee chiefs, but it has created an opportunity for those who weren’t sold in the first place to double down, like Sarlo.

Sarlo is a powerful Democratic broker at the state level and in Wood-Ridge – where he holds onto his dual office mayor’s seat – even though his vote production totals are down considerably and his outward and upward looking eyes are missing the glare of the local committee dons.

Sarlo’s statewide reach has landed him on the Dems’ redistricting committee – said to be a plum for backing state Sen. Pres. Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) over former Gov. Dick Codey (D-Roseland), according to party insiders.

With the resignation of Assemblyman Fred Scalera (D-Nutley) in Sarlo’s 36th District, Kasparian is publicly positioning himself as an un-opinioned arbitrator, but sources close to the party head said he’s making a rogue push to ignore the gentleman’s agreement in the three-county 36th.

The understanding is that the state senate seat belongs to Bergen, the biggest county of the trio. Essex County (Nutley) and Passaic County (Passaic City) – both Democratic voter bases – each get their own seat in the state assembly.

But since Bergen holds the most committee votes, the county organization could conceivably replace Scalera’s Essex seat with a Bergen Dem.

Sarlo said he’s honoring the tradition of the Essex seat in Nutley, but Kasparian said through BCDO Executive Director Chris Lee, “I’m considering all my options.”

Kasparian is meeting with Essex chair Phil Thigpen and Passaic chair John Currie to decide on how to move forward.

Sources close to Kasparian said he’s trying to rally the committee in Bergen by bringing home the seat, flying in the face of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo by taking a seat from Essex.

In Kasparian’s defense, many Bergen sources are convinced Sarlo will be cutting Nutley from the 36th next year, but in the meantime the gentleman’s agreement could be bucked with the powerful DiVincenzo on the losing end if Kasparian can pull it off.

Kasparian’s plan lacks the “proper geographical coverage,” Sarlo said. “My commitment is to ensure that I return two Democratic assembly seats in District 36 to the legislature.”

To do so, Sarlo wants to keep the Nutley base engaged, represented, and in district – a winning strategy in a November election.

A Democratic committee source said, “(Kasparian has) proven he can win at conventions, but not general elections. The stance he’s taking (in District 36) is consistent with his record.”

Kasparian cannot be removed, short of a bylaws amendment as is the procedure ongoing in the Mercer County GOP organization. A resolution of no-confidence could be passed, if the votes are there.

No one is expecting Kasparian to step down prematurely, and nothing is expected to be decided before 2011.

Outgoing Bergen Democratic Freeholder John Hogan is a rumored replacement for Kasparian if the embattled chairman does step down.

Hogan was a two-term mayor of Northvale before being appointed to the freeholder board last summer.

He said he’d consider a leadership position, but notes that Kasparian is still in charge.

“There’s so much chatter…As far as I’m concerned, there’s no vacancy,” Hogan said. “I’m not vying for anything.”

“Groups are meeting,” he said, and knows his name is being floated. “I met with Mike last week. I told him, ‘Mike, unless you step down, there’s no position available.’ Mike and I get along very well.”

“People are jockeying for position right now,” Hogan said. “It’s been traditional right after the election.

“A year ago, there was no talk of me running for freeholder; I was preparing for my reelection as mayor.”

Hogan is knowledgeable and capable, as is another outgoing freeholder, board chairman Jim Carroll, mayor of Demarest.

But Hogan could garner the support of Sarlo, Weinberg, and other county heavyweights, whereas Carroll may not be able to.

Weinberg, for instance, went out of her way to donate $300 to Hogan and fellow re-election running mate Elizabeth Calabrese this year, but not Carroll.

Another play for Hogan could be to return to the freeholder board as a replacement for sitting Democratic Freeholder Bernadette McPherson, who will likely be Kasparian’s choice for Scalera’s 36th District assembly seat if he can bring it to Bergen.

This makes more sense for Hogan, who survived primary challenges to make the ticket with Kasparian’s backing and without support from Sarlo or Weinberg.

In order to keep the seat in Essex, Sarlo is banking on Essex and Passaic committee votes, coupled with Wood-Ridge and a couple of other towns to combat whatever Bergen votes Kasparian can wrangle.

But sources in Passaic said the committee votes there aren’t locked in with Essex. If fact, sources said Currie was taken aback by DiVincenzo’s seemingly unilateral decision to keep the seat in Nutley.

Passaic insiders said the other 36th District assemblyman, Gary Schaer (D-Passaic), would like to see a woman on the ticket.

That description doesn’t fit Undersheriff Kevin Ryan, the Essex replacement-in-waiting handpicked by DiVincenzo. But the Passaic wish list does mesh with McPherson being the replacement for Scalera.

Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-Paramus) today released a call for the seat to come to Bergen and be filled by a woman, so Kasparian’s move is gaining steam.

What happens with the seat may be the only defining moment Kasparian has left, carrying around an 0-7 record and facing strong opposition from inside his party.

As Bergen Democrats regroup, Kasparian tries to quell dissent