The heart of the war in Hudson resides in the unerring north county rivalry between state Sen. Brian P. Stack (D-33) and state Sen. Nick Sacco (D-32), a collision threatening to turn others around them into collateral damage.
No one doubts the two warlords will trade organizational firepower this coming primary season, as each dredges up a throw-away warm body to run against the other to help underscore their two essential and surviving starring roles.
But will the sparks thrown by the two senators turn the county’s third top of the ticket presence, state Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-31), into a wartime casualty?
A Hudson insider acknowledged that Cunningham is increasingly in a difficult position, especially now as former Seton Hall basketball player Jerry Walker gets in the mayor’s race officially in about a half an hour.
When it comes to Sacco versus Stack, a fight delineating everything else on the political landscape, it’s tough to say where Cunningham will land.
“She doesn’t even know,” said the source. “The biggest part of the Sandy story becomes Jerry Walker because now there’s another black figure to whom she must pay attention. It makes a mistake that much more damaging.”
Neither Sacco nor Stack wants to hurt Cunningham. But their brawl makes wayward punches and elbows inevitable.
“You’d have to run a full slate for practical reasons – ballot placement and keeping their money flowing,” the source said. “Nothing personal.”
Cunningham is not the only one in a precarious position.
Asked if Stack’s bloodlust and detestation of Sacco outweigh his appreciation of nice guy Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) head Mark Smith, a source close to the conflagration described the war as “all or nothing.”
Smith finds himself in an unenviable situation, one he’s done everything to mitigate with diplomacy and considerable people skills but which ultimately must yield to the raw fibers of feeling dividing Sacco and Stack.
It’s like this: Sacco is the north county strongpoint for the HCDO and the mayor with the strongest local and district-wide operation: a 10-1 winner every time he runs for re-election – the old school antidote to Stack’s brand of GOTV hysteria.
The southern portion of the HCDO is the specific and specifically less authoritatively controlled domain of incumbent Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, who’s in a re-election dogfight in the county’s biggest city; and Smith, who doubles as the mayor of Bayonne.
Sources say the HCDO will dump Assemblyman Charles Mainor (D-31) this year in exchange for giving Cunningham her choice of running mate – an attractive tidbit to keep her from fleeing to Stack.
“They’ll put that on the table if that’s what she wants,” the source said.
Her other running mate happens to be Smith’s chief political ally, Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell (D-31), who plans to run for re-election this year with the support of the HCDO. Like Smith, he has cultivated good relations with Stack, in part in the name of countywide party unity, but also because he and Smith genuinely like Stack – and vice versa.
But those warm feelings won’t matter, as Stack’s intent to maintain north county hegemony requires him to go all out countywide against the HCDO. A source close to Smith said he wishes Stack could narrow his attack to where it belongs: Sacco, but glumly recognizes Stack can’t do it and keep sharp the influence he wields.
“He hates Sacco more than he loves Mark Smith,” said the source, a dynamic that could probably be repeated in relation to any number of other HCDO bystanders and players.