The Dist. 4 Essex Freeholder Back Saga

Members of the Morris GOP establishment may not be the only would-be enemies state Sen. Richard Codey, (D-27), Roseland, is coaxing over to his side.

When Codey held a campaign event a few weeks back, the mood was killer until Codey looked up from the lectern and saw Freeholder Len Luciano in the front row.

It was all the mortified ex-governor could do to keep from suspending his message in mid-sentence.

Luciano is – or was – or is –  Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo’s Democratic candidate in the 4th Freeholder District. Already challenged by a new legislative district, which now extends into Republican Morris County, Codey in the thick of a campaign didn’t want to be looking back over his shoulder at Luciano, ostensibly a Joe D. Democrat who was not Codey’s first choice as a running mate.

Adding to the senator’s worry was the fact that – in a competitive freeholder contest – Luciano was running against Cedar Grove Deputy Mayor Joe Chiusolo, ally of Codey’s dreaded enemy, state Sen. Kevin O’Toole, (R-40), Cedar Grove.

Codey didn’t want to find himself talking campaign strategy with a guy who had an umbilical cord running back to Essex County, where DiVincenzo is one friendly phone call away from O’Toole.

Luciano told the veteran he wasn’t “JD” branded and insisted he meant to fervently campaign for the Dem ticket.

Codey told the kid if he wanted to prove his loyalty to put up a hard-as-nails ethics bill for the county and then he’d believe him.

That cracked up the room. How was Luciano – newly sworn-in as county freeholder and maxed out with primary campaign contributions from DiVIncenzo – now going to turn against the powerful county executive?

Luciano called himself a DiVincenzo and Codey ally.

Codey grudgingly backed down, but didn’t all out embrace Luciano until he observed over a period of time the freeholder’s work ethic and enthusiasm.

Guardedly convinced of his ticket mate’s sincerity, he dropped $8,200 on him finally and agreed to campaign with him in the Essex portion of the district they share.

He ginned up support in other places, too.

That rankled DiVincenzo and O’Toole just a little bit, say sources. Codey was supposed to be on political life support – or at least pinned down in Morris County – not charming an Essex Dem candidate some say was a soft touch for O’Toole’s Chiusolo.

In a battleground district that the GOP ran less than a decade ago, businessman/deputy mayor Chiusolo was supposed to have a very hard edge over neophyte school teacher Luciano.  

All the intrigue gurgled into the open at a debate this past Monday night.

When Luciano suggested that Chiusolo was “on the take” because he had a contract with the county, Chiusolo went ballistic, demanding DiVincenzo act on Luciano’s suggestion and undertake an immediate corruption investigation and possible fumigation.

Sources say what Luciano should have said was that Chiusolo ran a soft county executive’s race against DiVincenzo in 2006 on a request from O’Toole, then later received a county contract.

“He just blew it,” a Dem source said.

Chiusolo’s allies denied it as more idle gossip, and DiVincenzo Chief of Staff Phil Alagia firmly said Chiusolo’s was a bid contract – less costly than others in the mix at the time.

“This contract is not lucrative to his business,” said Chiusolo Spokesman Thom Ammirato. “Joe would never compromise his integrity in any way. They’e just trying to divert attention from the very serious charges Mr. Luciano made and the trouble Demcrats have right now.

“Senator O’Toole has never told anyone to hold back in a race,” Ammirato added. “He gives people full rein to do what they want to do. To suggest Joe Chiusolo would trade his integrity for $28,000 – that is the kind of stuff that has infected some political organizations and it’s just sad.”

On the other front, DiVincenzo’s people also dismissed the buzz that they’re tired of Luciano, claiming they’re big enough to share Lenny with Codey.

The Dist. 4 Essex Freeholder Back Saga