Bergen County Republican Chairman Paul DiGaetano, former state Senator Norm Robertson and former Wyckoff Mayor Chris DePhillips all won the county line during Thursday’s Bergen County Republican Organization (BCRO) convention for state senate and assembly in New Jersey’s 40th legislative district. While that is the outcome all were hoping for, the three didn’t want to do it together.
DiGaetano — a senate candidate — was running with Robertson and Joe Bubba Jr. as assembly candidates. DePhillips was running on a slate fronted by Passaic County Clerk Kristin Corrado for senate and with Assemblyman Kevin Rooney as his fellow assembly candidate. The circumstances of the Bergen GOP convention were much disputed, particularly because of DiGaetano’s role as both a candidate and BCRO chairman. Rather than take the recommendation of county committee members who live in the district and award the line at his discretion, DiGaetano opted to remove himself from the process and open the vote to every member of the county committee (including those who live outside district 40) during Thursday’s convention. That vote split the two tickets.
According to a statement issued by Corrado’s team on Friday, they will remain a united slate in the primary and run on a separate line in Bergen County. That means that DePhillips will forego the coveted ballot position he earned at the convention and not appear under Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno — the winner of the Bergen line in the gubernatorial race. In their statement, the Corrado team called the convention methodology “rigged” despite the outcome for DePhillips.
“Was the convention rigged by the BCRO Chairman Paul DiGaetano to favor him and his slate? Of course it was, but I felt we came away from the contest with a lot of positives,” said DePhillips. According to the Corrado team, despite the fact that DePhillips managed to bring in an equal number of votes to Robertson, the bracketing of the candidates under gubernatorial candidates on the convention ballot gave DiGaetano an unfair advantage. According to DiGaetano, that ballot positioning at the convention was decided based upon which candidates got the endorsement of the BCRO Policy Committee last week.
The Corrado Team also claimed that DiGaetano voted in the convention, something that they say he should not have been able to do as chairman. DiGaetano rejected the claim that BCRO officers were ineligible to vote in the convention, citing BCRO bylaws.
DiGaetano said that the Corrado team’s claims of impropriety are “unfounded and false.” According to DiGaetano the full county convention was the most fair way to proceed due to his candidacy and chairmanship.
“When the Corrado team cannot win an open and fair process they need to claim that it is rigged. These attacks continuously prove that they have no solutions and are desperately weak to run such a negative campaign,” DiGaetano said. “The current attack aimed at me is an attack on the Bergen County Republican Organization’s democratic process in deciding who they want to represent them on the ballot. Nonetheless, the County Committee did not take the bait.”
In the lead up to the convention, the candidates opposed the decision to allow those county committee members outside the district to vote to determine the district 40 balloting. Despite the Corrado team’s opposition to the Bergen process as decided by DiGaetano, they did not oppose the Passaic County Regular Republican Organization’s rules in which 22-members of the executive committee vote to determine the party line, even those who live outside of the district. The Corrado team was awarded the line in Passaic and Essex, where a similar executive committee determines the line.
According to DiGaetano, Corrado’s team is being “hypocritical” by opposing the Bergen process.
“The Corrado Team’s claim that people outside LD40 should not be included in decisions is unbelievably hypocritical. The decision process in both Passaic and Essex Counties is by Party Leaders from the entire county and is a total of two dozen people,” DiGaetano said. “I offered them a process similar to that of Passaic and Essex Counties to assign the line here in Bergen County, which they rejected out of hand. That was probably because they didn’t think they could win. In fact, Bergen County’s Policy Committee is exactly that process, including officers and Municipal Chairs. The Policy Committee voted last week 32-12 in my favor. The Policy Committee’s vote was nearly the same percentage as last night’s Convention results.”
Despite the convention loss, Corrado said she is confident results will be different when only those in district 40 are eligible to vote in June.
“I wish Mr. DiGaetano well as he tries to parlay the convention votes he received from Garfield and North Arlington into something meaningful in the June Primary. I’ll be focusing my efforts on winning votes from the people I hope to represent who actually live in District 40,” she said.
The candidates will face off in the June Republican primary.
UPDATE – Essex County Chairman Al Barlas took issue with DiGaetano’s characterization of the Essex County GOP candidate selection proccess. He issued the following statement in response to DiGaetano:
“I know given that Paul has carpetbagged his way around Passaic, Essex, and now Bergen counties people assume he is well versed in each county’s candidate selection process, but in Essex County we’ve evolved since Paul and Jim Treffinger were the face of the party. The process I have put in place is that only the chairs who will be represented by a candidate have a say in the process.
Paul, Norm, and Joe would know that had they shown the voters of Cedar Grove respect and asked to be considered candidates to represent them. Since only Ed Buttimore, Kristin Corrado, Kevin Rooney, and Chris DePhillips cared enough about the Essex portion of the district to submit their letters of intent to the county party, they were the only ones considered by municipal chairman Peter Tanella.
It was Chairman Tanella’s decision to support Kristin, Kevin, and Chris.”