When PolitickerNJ recently asked a Hudson insider who was the best Jersey City mayor of the best 50 years, the source unequivocally said, “Gerry McCann,” who now wears a stop watch around his neck clocking other people’s times instead of himself routinely sprinting up the steps of City Hall.
The same source confirmed that McCann – who did two years for mail fraud in the early 1990s – was not just a polarizing political figure – but the grand polarizing figure in Hudson politics in the1980s.
McCann was so politically polarizing that he actually gave rise to two versions of the Hudson County Democratic Organizations (HCDO), a mischaracterization if you ask him, which we did.
The rift between McCann and Bruce Walter of Union City didn’t have its roots alone in the fact that McCann endorsed Republican Ronald Reagan for president in 1980. “I wasn’t even mayor when I endorsed Reagan,” he said.
The political fistfight really boiled down to a longstanding backroom North v. South Hudson-tinged war with Bob Menendez in the background, by McCann’s recollection. Menendez helped fund state Senator Wally Sheil’s 1981 mayoral campaign. McCann beat Sheil, then turned around and funded the opposition to then Union City Mayor Bill Musto, a Menendez ally at the time.
When Menendez became mayor, they fashioned an uneasy peace. They made it work.
But when McCann – then serving s the chairman of the HCDO – got indicted in 1992 – the old North/South knives reemerged.
Walter had succeeded Menendez as mayor.
“After I got indicted and they were prosecuting me, Bruce Walter called his own meeting in North Hudson where they declared themselves the county organization and made Walter the chairman,” said McCann.
McCann refused to recognize the schismatic north and held onto his own chairmanship.
“The state chair was in Casino in the Park state at our meeting,” said McCann, noting that the presence of the statewide organization’s leader helped legitimize his leadership of the party amid lingering grumbles about the mayor’s past support for mayor.
But all that became a moot point when “soon after that I was convicted,” McCann said.
Walter went on to chair the party when McCann went away to a federal penitentiary. The Union City mayor later died.
“We were political enemies not personal enemies,” said McCann, who to this day stands by his support for Reagan, and credits the Republican president with helping land Jersey City federal aid that proved essential to the city’s economic recovery.
Still delighted to talk politics, McCann animatedly transitions to a discussion about track and field.
“I’m a high school track coach and we’re winning,” he said earlier this year.