Michael Dressler, the Bergen County surrogate and preferred candidate by some powerful members of the Democratic Party, won’t challenge incumbent Republican County Executive Kathe Donovan this year.
After months of speculation, Dressler took his name out of contention on Monday to be the Democratic nominee in the Bergen County Executive’s race, citing medical concerns.
“I can’t say that I’m going to run for county executive, because I don’t know if I’m going to physically be able to do that or not,” said Dressler, stating that he has been suffering from a persistent bed sore for the past six weeks.
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 was 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, Freeholder James Tedesco 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. Bergen County Democratic Chairman Lou Stellato, Hogan, Huttle, Tedesco and Zur could not immediately be reached.
One reason that the November 2014 county executive election will be closely watched is that Bergen, New Jersey’s most populous county, is seen as the bellwether county in statewide elections.
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, now controlled by the Democrats by a 5-2 veto-proof margin, 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.
The ongoing Bridgegate scandal, which originated at the Fort Lee end of the George Washington Bridge, has also cast a shadow over Bergen, creating uncertainty regarding the situation’s effect on the county executive’s race.
Dressler expressed his belief that Donovan is beatable, although he did not endorse any other potential candidate, citing his position as a judge.
“There are a lot of issues out there for Kathe Donovan. Cory Booker is at the top of the ticket, Bridgegate, the county police – there are enough issues out there to defeat her,” Dressler said.
But with a tinge of regret in his voice, Dressler reiterated why he could not be the candidate to take on Donovan right now.
“I just want the Democrats of Bergen County to know what’s been going on. If I had made the decision to run, I think I could have done a good job, but circumstances were beyond my control,” Dressler said. “I’m sorry that I couldn’t have made my decision sooner. I wanted to see if this thing healed up, and it hasn’t.”