While 2016 is only three weeks in, the year has not been kind to Bergen County’s already ailing Republican Party. The Bergen County Republican Organization (BCRO) has received one bit of bad news after the other: Freeholder John Felice wasn’t going to pursue reelection, Sheriff Michael Saudino was switching parties to join the ranks of Bergen’s Democrats and state Senator Kevin O’Toole (R-40) announced that he wouldn’t pursue reelection in 2017, causing uncertainly in the already shaky ranks.
All this bad news comes in the context of freeholder and assembly losses in November that have led for some to call on BCRO Chairman Bob Yudin to resign. According to sources in Bergen County, the compounding factors have created the perfect storm for Democrats to come in and sweep the November elections.
One Bergen County source said that that “the effort to oust Yudin is going to distract the party until June.” According to the source, attempts like the one being waged by Wyckoff Mayor Kevin Rooney to take over Yudin’s chairmanship means that the party will not be able to focus on the races that will take place in November.
“The problem with the chairmanship is going to supersede a lot of what is happening in other races,” the source said. “That is to the detriment of Republicans because, if everyone is focused on fighting for chairman, there is not going to be any time to focus on the Sheriff race and freeholder race and probably not a lot of money raised.”
The source also said that not many Republicans are champing at the bit to join a party in turmoil. It seems that, for Bergen County’s Republicans, there is a real fear to throw their hat in for a seat that they will just end up losing…and a fear that the association with a weak and turbulent party will have a lasting impact on their public image. As of now, incumbent Republican Freeholder Maura DeNicola is the only announced Republican candidate for freeholder.
According to Yudin, however, the implication that he should resign because of the turbulence in the party is actually a “self-serving” move made by those that are causing the “havoc.”
“It is no distraction at all. If it is a distraction, it is being caused by the people who are challenging me,” Yudin said. “It is really ironic. These people create havoc and then they scream, ‘Look! There is havoc. You should resign.’ It is a diabolic plot on their part. I don’t pay any attention to these self-serving people who create the havoc, who create the distractions, who create the schisms in our party. I just move along.”
Yudin said that he in no way believes that the recent events in Bergen County will detract from the upcoming November elections and that he plans to proceed in terms of fundraising and candidate selection as normal (with the exception of possibly moving the date required to submit candidacy to the BCRO from February 1 to March 1.)
“We already have a number of people who have filed to run for offices,” Yudin said of the November elections that will include races for freeholder, surrogate, clerk and sheriff. “Come the filing deadline of the first week of April, we will have a full slate of candidates.”
While he does not think that the challenges to Yudin’s role will be a distraction, likely BCRO chairman challenger Paul DiGaetano said he does believe that the “party is broken” and “in need of a change.”
“It is more of an uncertainty and some of that may play a role in people’s decision to run,” DiGaetano said. “Most of the potential candidates I have talked to are concerned we will continue down the same road in the same vein and have the same result. Some of them are willing to take that gamble, some aren’t. If it is a distraction and that is a negative, what is the alternative?”
When Saudino made the switch from Democrat to Republican, Yudin blasted him, saying that the move was a “treacherous” one. But, at the same time, Yudin told PolitickerNJ that he felt Saudino made the switch because he felt he was more likely to win as a Democrat despite his incumbent status.
Saudino’s switch has put the party in a particularly difficult situation. Now, it seems unlikely that a legitimate candidate will rise to challenge an incumbent who is under the umbrella of the powerful Bergen Democratic Party led by Chairman Lou Stellato.
“We have to fill two slots on the freeholder board, we have to fill the county clerk spot, the surrogate spot and the sheriff slot,” DiGaetano said. “That all needs to be done while we are in this depressed state.”
Another source on the ground told PolitickerNJ that Republicans currently have little interest from possible candidates, especially for sheriff.
“They have absolutely no idea what they are going to do with the Sheriff’s spot,” the source said.
According to Yudin, however, those claims are untrue.
“The very people who say that are the people that cause the turmoil,” Yudin said. “If people don’t want to have turmoil, they have to stop the verbal, public fighting. The Democrats don’t fight publicly. We have a group of people who are a bunch of cancerous malcontents whose livelihood is to create chaos. It is not my fault there are people like that. I am not going to play their game.”
While Saudino’s defection and Felice’s decision not to run shook up the ranks of the BCRO, it is the prospect of filling Senator O’Toole’s seat that will have a slow burning impact on the party’s future. O’Toole is not up for reelection until 2017 so that means that the party (along with those in Passaic, Essex and Morris Counties) has a significant chunk of time (about 15 months) before they have to put up a candidate for O’Toole’s spot.
According to a source, O’Toole’s decision has put a lot of “wheels in motion” for the party’s future.
“Paul DiGaetano wanted that seat very badly,” the source said.
For DiGaetano, however, it is far too soon to think about running for O’Toole’s seat or speculating on who will.
“If that opportunity presents itself again, then I will have to weigh that,” DiGaetano said. “At this point all we have is a release that says ‘I will not run again in 2017.’ Talking about something that may or may not happen in 2017 is an exercise in futility.”
Because LD40 straddles Bergen, Passaic, Essex and Morris Counties, the choice for who will fill O’Toole’s seat can come from any of those areas. According to a source, Passaic County’s Peter Murphy has started cultivating support for the current county clerk Kristen Corrado to run for senate. Sources also say that Assemblyman Scott Rumana is eyeing O’Toole’s position.
On Thursday, Passaic County GOP Chairman John Traier released a statement about the need to build a consensus when selecting someone to run to replace O’Toole.
“There are many worthy and talented Republicans who could fill Sen. O’Toole’s seat in 2017, but – from my perspective – the choice of a senate candidate for District 40 must be done in an orderly and consensus building fashion,” Traier said. “We must not allow ourselves to become victims to a selfish, divisive process to replace Kevin O’Toole. This is not a time for political opportunism, it’s a moment to build consensus and unify behind the best candidate for the job.”
For now, it seems that the BCRO’s future is likely to be characterized by a tug of war between Yudin and his challengers. Because candidates need to be declared in April, he will still be the chairman for that announcement barring his unlikely step down. If he is defeated in June, a new chairperson will preside over the November elections as well as the eventual run for O’Toole’s seat. According to Yudin, however, he is more certain now than ever that he has the BCRO support needed to continue and he is not planning on giving up his position any time soon.