The Bergen chessboard: three municipal races could effect turnout, outcome in large-scale contests


BERGEN COUNTY – Many statewide eyes will be focused on Bergen County this Tuesday, when multiple important races will be decided in what is seen as the bellwether county in New Jersey politics.

But while the Bergen County Executive’s race, fought between Republican incumbent Kathleen Donovan and Democratic challenger Jim Tedesco, and the Fifth Congressional District contest, waged between Republican incumbent Scott Garrett and Democratic challenger Roy Cho, draw much of the spotlight, three local Bergen municipal races could draw enough heat to affect the outcomes of the large-scale contests.

The North Arlington mayoral race, between Democratic Mayor Peter Massa and his Republican challenger, Councilman Joe Bianchi, is driven in many ways by concerns over redevelopment in Bergen’s southernmost town. Donovan has personal ties to North Arlington, a fact that forms part of her belief that she can make significant dents in traditionally Democrat-leaning south Bergen. But any voter surge because of increased interest in the local North Arlington race, particularly any potential movement in favor of Massa, could signal south Bergen trouble for Donovan.

In Paramus, the struggle between the Democratic incumbent, Mayor Richard LaBarbiera, and the Republican challenger, Tom LoCicero, is centered in large part on taxes, a key issue in any Bergen race. But Tedesco’s former position as mayor of Paramus could tip the balance in favor of the Democrats in a closely divided town on partisan lines that is often seen at the bellwether town in a bellwether county. Tedesco held his own against GOP candidates in last year’s election, defeating all three Republican freeholder candidates even as Democratic candidates in the 38th Legislative District, which includes Paramus, were defeated.

The Ramsey mayoral contest is a free-for-all between Independent Richard Muti, Democrat Julie O’Brien and Republican Deirdre Dillon. Reports of an acrimonious campaign could boost voter turnout with unpredictable results in the CD 5 race. In a year when six-term incumbent Garrett finds himself dealing with a tougher-than-expected challenge from Cho, any potential split among normally solid Republican votes out of Ramsey could indicate trouble for Garrett in the normally solid-GOP reaches of north Bergen. The Bergen chessboard: three municipal races could effect turnout, outcome in large-scale contests