HACKENSACK – They don’t like each other anyway and given the history, some wondered if they wouldn’t have been squeamish campaigning together on the trail this year as they painfully tried to reconcile opposite points of view.
That detail didn’t come out at this afternoon’s press conference.
Standing in front of the County Courthouse, Bergen County Sheriff Mike Saudino cited the effectiveness of the Bergen County Democratic team in county government as the reason why he decided to change his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.
But not everyone was impressed with the stagecraft of the event – and at least one person even less with the substance, as Republicans – starting with incumbent Freeholder Maura DeNicola – grapple with the reality of a wounded party and a way forward in a deoxygenated atmosphere.
Now came Saudino – the other person she was supposed to have on her slate – declaring his new party affiliation.
Under the watchful eye of Democratic Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco, who stood with him – the sheriff insisted the move was about good government, while DeNicola from afar denounced his actions as pure politics.
The sheriff said his office conducted the most successful voluntary gun buyback program in the county’s history, taking 1,300 weapons and 55,000 rounds of ammunition off the street. He noted reduced overtime and improved efficiency, and the consolidation of K9 services.
“When the state didn’t act, we put a committee together to develop protocols for the use of body cameras,” said Saudino. “We have expanded our community outreach programs to ensure there is a constant dialog between the public and law enforcement.
“We are leading the fight to stop texting and driving,” he added. “And working together with County Executive Jim Tedesco and the Freeholder Board, we realigned county law enforcement, which will save taxpayers millions of dollars while improving police responsiveness and public safety.”
Then he went and said it.
Saudino had warred openly with former County Executive Kathe Donovan, whom Tedesco defeated in 2014.
DeNicola had backed Donovan in that fight over consolidation of the county sheriff’s department, the issue that galvanized law and enforcement against Donovan and helped propel Tedesco into office.
Saudino that year endorsed Tedesco then hasitly walked it back.
There was no indication he would get today’s genii back in the bottle or had any will to try, as the sheriff amplified his affection for Tedesco and company based on the merits.
“Each and every one of these initiatives was accomplished with the support of a Democratic Freeholder Board and Democratic County Executive who believe, as I do, that good government trumps partisanship,” he said. They have shown that to be true with their actions time and time again. It is for that reason that I have decided to run for re-election as a member of the Bergen County Democratic team, which has served the county so effectively for these last five years.”
As she summons a plan to run for reelection – the last one standing in a lonely Republican place (veteran state Senator Kevin O’Toole today announced his decision not to pursue reelection in 2017), DeNicola hit Saudino.
“I am disappointed that the sheriff chose to turn his back on his party, and his commitment to the people who nurtured his political career,” said the freeholder. “I am disappointed that he chose political expediency, and self-interest ahead of the people’s interest.
“I am sure the allure of the power of the Democratic Party in Bergen County is difficult to resist,” she added. “I am sure Chairman Stellato made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. But there are those of us who believe in fighting for what is right and what we believe in regardless of the outcome.
“Sheriff Saudino may want us to believe that his decision is about law enforcement, but we know it’s not. It’s about making a deal to secure his re-election. So let’s not for a moment pretend that this defection today has anything to do with differences with the past administration or the sheriff’s ability to carry out his duties.
“It’s about nothing more than political ambition and succumbing to the allure of power and prolonging a political career. I am prepared to work this year with the citizens of this county who want fair, honest and open government and I look forward to working with the Republican Party’s nominee for sheriff.”