Post Scalera, Currie and Passaic confront another decision

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Not again.

That was a little of what Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie must have been thinking when Assemblyman Fred Scalera (D-Nutley) evaporated out of his 36th District seat this week, albeit not right in front of an election and not into the safety net of the Port Authority.

But four months after former Sheriff Jerry Speziale pulled the ripcord on county politics without notifying Currie, the veteran chairman admitted to being blindsided by news that Essex County Undersheriff Kevin Ryan was the favorite to replace Scalera, who – incidentally – was already gone, effective Monday.

Now Currie said he’s not outright opposed to Ryan, but “I haven’t even met the guy.”

“I was a little insulted that they didn’t consult me,” Currie said of Essex Democrats. “Don’t take me for granted.”

By extension, the chairman of the skinny county with its tail end trapped between Essex and Bergen said he doesn’t want his assemblyman neglected. That would be Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic).

Unavailable for comment, sources say Schaer simply wants comfort level with a running mate and himself felt vaguely puzzled by leaked intel from Essex that he would have to sell an unknown product called Ryan from a town Chris Christie won in 2009 – to the 36th District rank and file.

Similarly irritated that he was left out of the process, Bergen County Democratic Organization Chairman Michael Kasparian this week entertained Bergen-based alternatives to Ryan for the vacated seat. Sources close to the chair say he is intent on maintaining respect for Bergen while simultaneously salvaging a shaken chairmanship and consequently – with five days and counting until the joint county committees ratify a Scalera successor – hadn’t shut down the war option.

Kasparian met with Currie today and prodded him. Together, they thought through the dimensions of a Bergen-Passaic partnership of disrespected parties.

But Currie – due to meet Essex County Democratic Chairman Phil Thigpen tomorrow – could only go to a certain point with Bergen.

The Essex slight aside, Currie and Schaer – like the district’s top of the ticket presence, state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge), recognize the political problem of leaving Nutley unmanned. It’s less populous than the Passaic portion or the South Bergen portion of the district as currently configured, but Nutley distributes the weight.  

If they agree with the argument made today by Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-Paramus) that the district could use a woman, they probably disagree with the notion that the woman should come from South Bergen, sources say.

She should be from Nutley.

“The problem is there’s only one woman (with a solid, elevated public profile) in Nutley, and she’s a Republican,” fumed one Democratic Party source, referring to Mayor Joanne Cocchiola.

That reality leads back to Ryan, the choice of Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo.

Who is he?

Sources close to DiVincenzo insist he’s a Nutleyite, and anyone who knows politics in Nutley – famous for its families with deep town roots – knows that’s no small piece of campaign cred here. “Kevin has helped a lot of other people with their campaigns, selflessly, for years, everyone knows it, and now it’s time for people to come together for Kevin,” said a Nutley source.

Not discounting the possibilitites of redistricting alterations in the 36th, but alert to the political benefit of maintaining that distribution of districtwide power as it is curently apportioned among Essex, Passaic and Bergen and nullifying the prospect of Republicans running the lone Nutley candidate next year, Currie wants a Nutley rep. If it goes to an Essex versus Bergen committee battle, he would be a necessary ally for Essex.

But as for Ryan, “I’m not there yet,” said the chairman. “I want Gary Schaer to have a true partner. I think Bergen is serious about a Bergen candidate. I haven’t made a decision. I will make a decision based on giving my candidate (Schaer) the best chance, the best partnership.”

If it means losing another lawman, in this case Ryan not Speziale, Currie wouldn’t be as momentarily downbeat.

But getting DiVincenzo to budge in Essex might be too much for even the veteran Currie – on his own. Sources say DiVincenzo wants Ryan, not a woman compromise candidate. If that proves unacceptable to Kasparian and Bergen, it may have to work for Passaic, which, in effect, would have to suffer DiVincenzo’s outsized power for the sake of its vital Essex alliance.

But sources also say Ryan’s yet to be vetted.  

Post Scalera, Currie and Passaic confront another decision