Fiddich Review Centre

Keeping up with North Hudson 2023 political races is a dizzying task

We’re still months from the next round of municipal elections in Hudson County, but keeping track of who’s running for what, particularly in the northern half of the county, may leave politicos’ notebooks looking like a calculus equation.

There’s a retiring congressman running for mayor, a nudged-out assemblywoman running for municipal council, a former mayor considering a run for, you guessed it, mayor … and that’s just a sliver of the action in what is becoming a convoluted game of musical chairs.

Making sense of the action requires an understanding of the fallout of two key events — Rep. Albio Sires’ retirement and New Jersey’s once-in-a-decade redistricting — as well as the behind-the-scenes mechanics of the powerful Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) and the allegiances within it.

But first, here’s the breakdown of who is expected to run so far.

For West New York mayor, there’s Congressman and former mayor Sires, sitting West New York Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo and, possibly, former Mayor Felix Roque in the non-partisan May elections.

Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez and current Commissioner Margarita Guzman are running for commissioner on Cirillo’s ticket. Sires, the chosen candidate of the HCDO, has not announced any running mates, but Roque said he knows he’ll run with former PBA president Tommy Mannion if he decides to jump in the race.

Current West New York Mayor Gabriel Rodriguez is expected to run for state assembly (there are two seats in each district) in the 33rd District, and North Bergen Commissioner Julio Marenco may as well, according to NJ Globe. Pedro Mejia, currently an assemblyman in the 32nd District, also appears to be a victim of the redistricting.

In North Bergen, Mayor Nicholas Sacco will again face Larry Wainstein, whom he defeated relatively easily in both 2015 and 2019, in another May election.

And slightly south, in the 32nd District that now covers Hoboken and the northern part of Jersey City, Assemblyman Raj Mukherji plans to run for senate, and a source confirmed that his ticket will include first-time candidates Jessica Ramirez and John Allen for assembly. Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack will run for reelection in the 33rd District.

While individual races themselves aren’t currently stacked with an abundance of candidates, it’s the chain of events that caused them that can get dizzying.

First, there’s Sires’ retirement from Congress next week — to make room for Rep.-elect Rob Menendez Jr. — but a desire to stay in local politics.

It is unclear whether the West New York mayoral seat was already open at that point, but regardless, it became available for a new HCDO candidate when Rodriguez, the current mayor, opted for a seat in the assembly.

That in turn left Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez behind, so now she, like Sires, is running for a smaller scale position: one of five West New York commissioner seats.

The HCDO typically lets mayors select who their assembly candidates will be, and in this case, the West New York mayor selected himself, said Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner.

As for why he would sideline Jimenez in the process, an HCDO source said the relationship between the two has been rocky for several years.

“She doesn’t interact with (town) hall,” the source said

While some are scratching their heads over a congressman running for mayor, Turner said Sires knew as soon as he decided to step down that he would want to return to politics in the city he led as mayor from 1995 to 2006, when he jumped to a seat in Congress.

“He just has a love for West New York,” Turner said. “That’s the town that accepted him with open arms. The health is good, the energy is good, so he wants to dedicate his time now to continuing to help West New York.”

Roque, another former mayor and a potential opponent, said “I was a full colonel in the Army (Reserves). You don’t go from being a full colonel to being a private again.”

And he says that he and residents he has spoken to feel Rodriguez has been inaccessible as mayor, which he believes Sires was complicit in.

“(Sires has) to tell me, why did he allow Gabriel Rodriguez to be absent for four years and not do anything for the town,” said Roque, who served two terms (2011-2019) after stunning HCDO-backed Sal Vega. “He has to tell me that because he has been around. He’s been guiding this young man.”

Redistricting, which shifted long-time senators Stack and Sacco into the same 33rd District, led Sacco to give up his seat so Stack can run for re-election.

But it also left the 32nd District senate seat open, which Assemblyman Raj Mukherji jumped on.

That then started another game of musical chairs, with his assembly seat opening up, a seat that, again, the mayor usually has an outsized role in selecting a candidate for.

A source familiar with the process confirmed that Ramirez, an attorney and current Jersey City Planning Board member, will be on Mukherji’s ticket for that seat, which was first reported by NJ Globe. And in Hoboken, Mayor Ravi Bhalla is opting to have his former chief of staff Allen run for assembly and the seat currently held by Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro.

“Every 10 years we go through this redistricting and it’s brutal,” said Turner, the mayor of Weehawken since 1991 and a veteran of the ebbs and flows of the HCDO. “Especially when you’re in an area as compact as us. It all worked out, but it’s just very time-consuming and very disruptive, but it’s the law. You have to do it and everything will fall into place.”

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