HACKENSACK – Visually, Bergen County Clerk John Hogan’s swearing-in ceremony carried the near grandeur of an FDR inaugural, as the county’s classic courthouse formed the enormous symbolic centerpiece for what Democrats say is the resurgence of their enfeebled party.
You’d never know the GOP still has the majority of freeholders here in this swing county.
Hogan’s win was enough for a day of sustained chest-thumping at the edge of rain.
“The significance of this race is really great,” said U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). “Although it’s chilly out there, it’s warm up here.”
In the company of Lautenberg, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), at least three buzzed-about potential gubernatorial candidates also stood on the steps of the courthouse amid the bunting, bagpipes and drizzle.
“What it says is if you want to be successful statewide, you have to come through Bergen County,” said South Bergen pol state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36), who was close to political paradise.
In the crowd, in the front row, wearing horn rims and trench coat, Bergen County Democratic Chairman Lou Stellato took a wide wave at the crowd behind him during the festivities, soaking applause.
Someone with either a twisted sense of the theatrical or no inside track on Trenton politics sat state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) next to state Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-18), chalk-marking that further chilled the November air.
Eyes straight ahead, they took their seats with ceremonial grace, Buono’s dethroning from her senate majority post still hovering between them.
“The difference is if the roles had been reversed, she would have decapitated him – then driven a truck over him,” an insider told PolitickerNJ.com.
State Sen. (and former Gov.) Dick Codey (D-27) received the easier and more politically advantageous seating assignment. He happily settled in next to the victorious state Sen. Bob Gordon (D-38) – an arm reach away from where Rothman swore in Hogan.
“With great hope, I accept the challenge to be your Bergen County Clerk,” declared the victor.
Following those duties, all Codey had to do was grab Hogan’s arm and hold it aloft as flashbulbs popped.
Never mentioning Sweeney – and once leaving the crowd hanging as he addressed “Steve…” then proceeded to praise Rothman – Lautenberg turned sidewise, his gaze tracking over the dignitaries to finally find Codey behind the podium.
“This is a man who brought his courage wherever he went,” said the senator. “Thank you, Dick. We miss you.”
Although he wasn’t present, a Republican operative from afar likened the casual competition of statewide Democrats to a community theater audition for the role of Peter Shapiro, catastrophically a 1985 casualty to incumbent Gov. Tom Kean.
Unsuccessful LD 38 candidate John Driscoll, chairman of the freeholder board, sat on the dais, back to the wall, and endured the repeated slogan Democrats had draped over the event.
“We saw the rejection of the Republican Party,” Lautenberg said. “With every chance, we have to elect Democrats.”
In an election year where Bergen forms one of the key components of his re-election, Menendez was next, and at first seemed resistant to the partisan refrain.
“He’ll stream-line records keeping,” the senator said, with a nod to Hogan. “He’ll make the office user-friendly.”
So far, so good.
Then Menendez pounced.
“You’ll find John in his office, working hard every day,” he said, and operatives in the crowd cracked up, recalling the ad the Democrats used to dismantle GOP Clerk Liz Randall, which featured shots of the incumbent frolicking with a dog and fulfilling personal chores during work hours.