Battle Over Bergen Bromide Pits Chairman DiGaetano Against Chairman Barlas

Was county's GOP slogan hijacked or rescued?

Essex County GOP Chairman Al Barlas now controls a Bergen slogan. PolitickerNJ

Politicians like to believe that their every word matters. And now a GOP fight in – where else?—Bergen County has broken out over just four words. For years, “Republicans for Responsible Government” has been the slogan of the county’s officially endorsed candidates—a signal to loyal party types of who won the endorsement at the party convention.

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But just like “soup is good food” or “don’t leave home without it,” these clever little catchphrases are registered trademarks. According to Al Barlas, the Essex County GOP Chair, no one had properly renewed the registration for Bergen’s “Republicans for Responsible Government” slogan since 2010. He came upon this fact when he was searching the state’s database for a slogan that would be appropriate for the candidates he’s supporting. Those candidates including Passaic County Clerk Kristin Corrado, who’s running the LD40 Senate Seat that is being vacated by Sen. Kevin O’Toole, who is joining the board of the Port Authority and was Barlas’ predecessor as Essex County GOP Chair.

That’s where things get interesting. Corrado’s opponent in the GOP primary is Paul DiGaetano. He is not only the former Minority Leader of the Assembly, but he’s also the current Bergen County GOP Chair.

Naturally, DiGaetano wasn’t pleased to see the slogan he was hoping to win for his own candidacy suddenly fall into the possession of his rival – especially one from another county. Making matters even more interesting is the fact that Essex comprises only a small portion of LD40 compared to Bergen. But DiGaetano himself lived in Nutley in Essex, so that inter-county rivalry adds fuel to the already burning fire of a contested primary.

DiGaetano has called an emergency meeting for tonight to address what he called in an email “the compromising of our Republican County slogan.” He calls it “unfortunate” that yesterday’s notice of the meeting fell into the hands of the media and will presumably be displeased that today’s notice has as well. DiGaetano declined to comment for this story, telling PolitickerNJ he would speak about it ” after our meeting.”

Meanwhile, Barlas rejects the notion that he somehow hijacked the county’s slogan. Yesterday, he sent a letter to Bergen County Clerk John Hogan to “provide consent for use of the slogan to ALL Republican candidates.”

Barlas fires back that if anyone’s playing games, it’s DiGaetano. He notes that in past years, the line for the Bergen portion of LD40 would be selected at the convention only by those GOP voters who live in that portion of the county. This year, Barlas told PolitickerNJ “[DiGaetano] knows he would lose that so he’s opening it up to all of Bergen County. So 1100 people get to vote on who’s going to be on the line in seven towns in Bergen. He knows he’d lose head to head so the guy in Lodi gets to vote on who’s on the line in Franklin Lakes.”

Bergen County Chairman DiGaetano sent this notice out under the heading “REMINDER: Emergency Meeting” screenshot

In a letter to Bergen Republicans, Barlas sharply criticized his neighboring chairman. “As chairman of a county organization, maintaining your slogan is the most rudimentary of tasks. For the sitting Chairman to allow Republicans For Responsible Government to lapse is the equivalent of McDonald’s forgetting to trademark their Golden Arches. It simply cannot and should not happen.”

Barlas pointed out to PolitickerNJ that DiGaetano is actually lucky that Barlas bought it because the unprotected trademark could have fallen into less friendly hands—a fringe player like Lyndon LaRouche could have bought it and run candidates on the line marked “Republicans for Responsible Government.” Barlas told PolitickerNJ, “I didn’t buy it to hijack the Republican Party in Bergen County, I bought it to protect the slogan for Republicans to use.”

This is not the first time a maneuver such as this has been successfully deployed. In 1996, Essex County Executive James  Treffinger feuded with former friend Essex County GOP Chairman John Renna. Treffinger turned to a bright young aide to plot a strategy. The aide discovered that Renna had failed to register the Essex County trademark—they swooped in and used it run their own candidates and successfully ended the long political career of Renna. That aide’s name? Kevin O’Toole.

Battle Over Bergen Bromide Pits Chairman DiGaetano Against Chairman Barlas