If either of the casino bills currently making their way through the New Jersey State Senate or the Assembly were to pass, Bergen County would most likely see a casino open within its borders. For newly sworn in Bergen County Freeholder Chairman Steve Tanelli, the bill that passes needs to align with the interests his county.
According to Tanelli, the Assembly version—which offers a more “free market” approach compared with the Senate version that requires all North Jersey casino operators to have ties back to Atlantic City—fits that bill.
“I think the Assembly bill offers more for Bergen County versus the other plan having everything tie back to Atlantic City,” Tanelli told PolitickerNJ. “It is a better plan for the state of New Jersey and more fair for northern New Jersey. Why put restrictions on the process? Why not have an open process?”
Tanelli, a Democrat, is close with Bergen County Democratic Chairman Lou Stellato. In New Jersey’s tightly interwoven political world, that allegiance puts him in line with one of Stellato’s biggest allies: Assembly Speaker and Hudson County Democratic Chairman Vincent Prieto (D-32).
Prieto has been adamant in his support of the Assembly version of the bill. Tanelli’s own senator, Paul Sarlo (D-36), is one of the co-sponsors of Senate President Steve Sweeney’s (D-3) senate version so the freeholder’s support of the Assembly bill puts him at odds with his senator.
Tanelli and Sarlo are friends. The senator swore in the freeholder just this week.
There’s no animosity.
But in the larger framework of regional politics, there is considerable speculation that Tanelli would be on a short list to supplant Sarlo as the state senator from District 36 if the current civil war between Sweeney and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop comes to a head. If Sarlo stays with Sweeney and Fulop gets the Bergen County Democratic Committee line, for example, Democrats might be looking to clean house of Sweeney’s closes allies and drop Sarlo in 2017.
A source close to the situation yesterday doubted that Sarlo would dump his own career for Sweeney if it reached that point and told PolitickerNJ that the senator would remain on the line even if the BCDC went in a direction other than the same way as Sweeney.
But it’s early.
Replacing Sarlo with Tanelli could give Fulop a stronger base in Bergen County. Further, because Sarlo and Stellato have often been at odds, grooming Tanelli to take over his seat might be prudent for the powerful county chairman.
In the event of a civil war, the name of Sarlo’s slate mate, Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) surfaces sometimes as a senate option, but sources argue that it’s unlikely the Passaic County lower house lawmaker would make a play for the senate without first exhausting his potential to succeed Prieto as the next speaker of the assembly.