Now that Passaic County Clerk Kristin Corrado has won a heated Republican primary for the state Senate seat in the 40th District, her rivals are saying it’s time to lay down arms and unite the party.
But the conciliatory gestures this week by the two county chairmen who opposed Corrado and her ticket — Bergen County GOP Chairman Paul DiGaetano and Passaic County GOP Chairman John Traier — are too little, too late, some say.
“After the primary, everybody comes together and so I look forward to working together to get Republicans elected throughout Bergen County,” DiGaetano told Observer in an interview Monday.
Corrado and her Assembly running mates, Christopher DePhillips and Kevin Rooney, decisively won the primary on Tuesday and are considered a lock in the general election in their heavily Republican district. The big prize was the Senate seat that will become vacant once Sen. Kevin O’Toole, a Corrado backer, leaves the Legislature in January.
A former state assemblyman, DiGaetano had labeled Corrado and her slate the products of a “backroom deal” orchestrated by his predecessor as Bergen GOP chair, Bob Yudin. He repeatedly attacked Corrado for her ties to Peter Murphy, a former Passaic County GOP chairman who was convicted of bribery and mail fraud in 2001 and served prison time. An appeals court later overturned the verdict and Murphy pleaded guilty to one fraud charge.
When DiGaetano took over as the head of the Bergen GOP in June 2016 and then jumped into the state Senate primary as a candidate, it diluted what had been a united front behind Corrado’s ticket from the Republican county organizations in Bergen, Essex, Morris and Passaic. Essex and Morris lined up behind Corrado, while DiGaetano put his own Bergen committee and Traier’s Passaic organization in his column.
Traier’s decision contravened the members of the Passaic County Regular Republican Organization, who had voted to grant the county line to Corrado’s team.
But now, DiGaetano said, Republicans should work to put the infighting behind them.
“I plan to support all the Republican candidates in November, so it is not an issue on my part,” DiGaetano said.
Essex County GOP Chairman Al Barlas was one of the most vocal Corrado supporters and has called on both DiGaetano and Traier to resign in the wake of the election.
“You can’t divide everybody into different camps and then say, ‘We want unity,’” Barlas said Monday. “For the good of both of their respective organizations, I think they both need to go.”
DiGaetano and Traier both balk at the notion that they should pack up and leave before their terms end. They both have one year left in their chairmanships and the option to run again.
“I thought Chairman DiGaetano would be a better choice due to his experience but now I am very much behind the slate,” Traier told Observer NJ. “The voters have spoken. People can call for my resignation all they want. I don’t intend to resign. I have a lot to offer the party and I will continue to work to get Republicans elected.”
Wayne Mayor Chris Vergano said Traier’s support of DiGaetano hurt down-ballot candidates in Passaic County by eating up funds the organization could have spent in the November general election against Democrats. Like Barlas, Vergano said he believes Traier should put an early end to his time as PCRRO chairman.
“I am of the belief that John Traier should resign,” Vergano said. “The Republican Party in Passaic County has very limited funds and John probably spent a third of what they had on a primary. Those funds would be very valuable come November … and clearly they didn’t affect the outcome.”
Traier said that he hopes to lead the charge to bring the North Jersey GOP back together ahead of November’s general election.
“I think we need to have some kind of unity event and I am going to be working on that,” he said. “Republicans tend to come together and I am going to try and lead that effort. I have a lot of ideas on how we can expand the Republican vote for November.”
When Observer NJ spoke with Corrado on election night, she said that she and her running mates would welcome support from Republicans who opposed them in the primary. Corrado could not be reached for comment Monday.