HACKENSACK – Bergen County Surrogate Michael Dressler said on Monday that he hopes to decide by the end of this month whether or not he will seek the Democratic nomination for County Executive in the November 2014 election.
“I figure that I should have a decision within another week or so,” Dressler, who was first elected Surrogate in 1996, told PolitickerNJ.com. “The most important thing is that I like what I do here. I get a chance everyday to positively impact somebody’s life. That’s why I got into public service. I had 143 families that lost people at the World Trade Center come through this office, and we tried to make those people feel better under the most unbelievable circumstances that you could ever imagine by helping the families [to settle their affairs]. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to a decision as to where I think I can do the most good, whether it’s in this office or the County Executive’s office.”
Dressler, who was first elected Surrogate in 1996, has a solid record of service and a compelling backstory. Dressler overcame disability after he suffered permanent paralysis as a result of a teenage accident to become mayor of his hometown of Cresskill. He has continued his rise in Bergen County politics ever since, winning re-election in 2001, 2006 and 2011.
Dressler is now at the top of the list of possible Democratic candidates lining up to take on Republican incumbent County Executive Kathleen Donovan. Other Bergen boldface names reportedly in the mix include County Clerk John Hogan, Freeholder Tracy Silna Zur, Prosecutor John Molinelli and state Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D – 37). Former Freeholder Chairman Jim Carroll of Demarest declared his candidacy in May. The party will hold its county convention in March.
“County Executive is a position that I’ve thought about for a long time. I think I’d do a good job at it,”Dressler said. “I go back and forth. People come up to me daily and say ‘We need you to run,” and other people say ‘Thank you for what you’ve done in your office.’
“I know myself, and I know what I want to accomplish in this life,” added Dressler. “The Democratic Party has been very good to me, and Lou Stellato is a terrific [Bergen Democratic] chairman. But again, it’s not an ego thing. I want to do whatever I’m going to do for the right purposes. But if I want to run for County Executive enough, then I’m going to run.”
Many political observers believe that despite the personal popularity of Donovan, she could be beatable in 2014. Donovan has struggled with the freeholder board over plans to merge the Bergen County Police Department and the county’s Sheriff”s Office. Donovan is opposed to the plan, while the majority of the freeholder board, controlled by the Democrats, supports the move. During her battles with the freeholder board, Donovan has used her veto power more than 25 times since taking office in January 2011.
The public problems of Alan Marcus, the consultant who managed Donovan’s victorious campaign in 2010, and the positioning of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, who was raised in Bergen and is perhaps the most popular Democrat in the state, at the top of the Democratic ticket in 2014 are other serious challenges for Donovan.
Dressler filed a lawsuit against Donovan in 2012 in which he alleged she overstepped her authority by refusing to approve promotions for three of his employees. The suit was dismissed the same year.Dressler, however, has asserted that he achieved some gains from the move. The ruling maintained his right to make changes within his office as long as he remained within the budget set by the county executive.
Whether or not Dressler decides to run, he pointed the way for any challenger seeking to depose Donovan.
“We’ve had enough of partisan politics – we see it on the state level and on the federal level. People are tired of that,” Dressler said. “They want somebody who can build a consensus. That’s what I would try to bring to Bergen County government if I ran. In my office, there is no Democrat or Republican way to probate a will.”