A victory last night in West New York by the self-funded Dr. Felix Roque may create an opportunity for Gov. Chris Christie to further antagonize Democrats in Hudson County, one of the opposition party’s classically important voter strongholds, sources say.
The Republican governor already has built solid relationships with Union City Mayor/state Sen. Brian P. Stack – who’s on record describing Christie as the greatest governor ever – and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who regained control of the council last night. Both leaders are Democrats who prize operating outside – and often in opposition to – the county’s party establishment.
A self-described conservative independent Democrat, Roque will be sworn in this month as the leader of a city that – along with Union City, North Bergen and Hoboken – forms part of an important block of Hudson votes that Democrats – including U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), up for re-election in 2012 – depend on in statewide contests.
Of those towns, only North Bergen Mayor/state Senator Nick Sacco stands as the last surviving leader whose continuing alliance with the once powerful Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) helped him over the course of two decades to forge self-sustaining power.
Visible in the crowd of celebrating Roque partisans last night were members of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey (LLANJ), a mostly anti-HCDO (but also pro-Menendez) outfit whose members worked with Republicans during the redistricting process to try to secure a map that they said would be more favorable to Latinos.
Throughout the campaign, Roque spoke favorably of Sacco and Stack, the two biggest power players in North Hudson. He had hoped for the endorsement of Stack, which never came, but said repeatedly on the trail that he looked forward to working with both fellow mayors once he was elected.
The Christie connection remains a question mark, as does the role of Menendez, who forcefully backed the re-election of last night’s loser, the HCDO-supported Silverio “Sal” Vega.
Sources say that if the governor makes a hard play for Roque’s political affections, it wouldn’t be the first time that Menendez was in a position where he had to confront Republicans on his home turf.
The Union City Democrat famously backed down a Reagan/Kean-fueled era to hold onto the Cuban American effort, literally by fighting for and winning local commission control in West New York and Union City, the locus of Cuban American votes in New Jersey. Menendez’s efforts forced now-U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-13), then a Republican, into repeated losses locally before he finally changed parties.