The good, the bad, and the 2007 Passaic County GOP screening

On Tuesday night, the Passaic County Republican Party held its screening for candidates seeking the official party endorsement in the June Primary election. By all accounts, the evening was a disaster and does not bode well for Chairman Scott Rumana's image. When I asked a staunch ally of his to rate the success on a scale of 1 to 10, he joked, "Zero...but on the positive side, nobody died."

First of all, attendance was low. Of the 400+ actual elected and appointed members of the County Committee, only 90 or so turned up (plus about 20 additional people who were not on the County Committee). This did not represent a quorum, and therefore a planned initiative to amend the bylaws in order to shorten the gap between the date for official party endorsement and the petition filing date was not even presented. This complicates matters because it puts Rumana and his team under the gun to recruit a number of candidates for various posts.

Former Little Falls councilwoman Jayme Alfano, who has signed her actual name to comments on this blog criticizing Rumana's leadership, wrote me the follwing:
"I am so sick of hearing people blame the president and the wave for Republicans losing. LF lost because we have no leadership and that is why we are in the mess we are in with the county. Scott needs to STOP pointing blame, take accountability and lead. There wasn't even a quorum there last night. Pathetic."
Ashley Kindergan of the Herald News, who has taken over for Paul Brubaker, has covered the fallout in today's paper:
"Republicans are short on candidates to run in the November elections, now that a freeholder candidate backed out of a race hours before he was supposed to speak in front of Passaic County committee members.

On Tuesday, in a screening meeting of the Republican County Committee, Russell Bleeker, did not appear as scheduled. Instead, officials said, Bleeker left a message on attorney Mark Semeraro's cell phone about an hour and a half before the meeting saying he had to drop out because he was worried about his business interests if he ran...

Rumana and other party officials said no one could have predicted that Bleeker would drop out. Semeraro said Bleeker was 'enthusiastically pursuing' the Republican nod right up until he dropped out."
So now the GOP is left with no Sheriff candidate (by design - more about that below), no State Senate candidate in District 34, no State Senate OR Assembly candidates in District 35, one empty Freeholder spot, and one endorsed candidate (2006 nominee Arthur Soto) rethinking the viability of his run.

This must be rectified immediately, and as I wrote earlier, a stronger effort to communicate with County Committee members over the past few months might have generated enough excitement and interest to spur more quality candidates to present themselves. We have a real crisis, because in the 6 towns of District 35, more than 1/3 of the county, loyal Republicans may go into the ballot box and see:

Sheriff - BLANK
State Senate - BLANK
State Assembly - BLANK
State Assembly - BLANK
Freeholder - Arthur Soto?
Freeholder - ???

Unacceptable. We cannot concede more races than we contest, even in towns like Hawthorne and Totowa.

Now, as for the Sheriff's race - in principle, I am against having empty slots on the ballot. We went through this in 2004, when I (to a far, far lesser extent than GOP Sheriff candidate Mark Michalski) faced pressure not to run against the Democrat incumbents. Among those taking my side: former Assembly leader Paul DiGaetano, who shares my disdain for conceding races without even fielding a candidate. The idea that an incumbent will "stay home" or "go to sleep" is a flawed one. First of all, an incumbent like Speziale who yields power on the local level and wins by very wide margins, has 2 principal opponents, neither of which is represented in the person of his challenger from the other party.

An incumbent's main opponent is his own performance in the last election. Incumbents love to tell people that they increased their share of the vote in each subsequent election, therefore suggesting that they have become more and more beloved by the people they represent. Logically, therefore, an incumbent whose numbers slip looks foolish because he appears to have lost popularity. So incumbents, driven at the most basic level by egoism, work hard to keep their numbers up, even with lame partisan competition.

In Speziale's case, his other main opponent is Bill Pascrell. The Sheriff trounced the Congressman in 2004 when they were both on the ballot (which pleases me from a certain angle, especially since Pascrell thugs stole not only my yard signs - which they tried to blame on Speziale incidentally - but even the Sheriff's yard signs as well). Riding the demagogic, I mean, Democratic wave of 2006, Pascrell managed to increase his share of the vote by a few points relative to 2004 - which puts Speziale under pressure to do the same.

However, Speziale (who rather fancies himself) knows that even his proven electoral clout will not be sufficient to drive more turnout in an off-off-off year than what he saw in the Presidential contest of 2004. And Pascrell knows that too. So raw numbers will not be a fair basis for comparison. However, percentage points would be. If Speziale had an opponent, even a weak one, he would presumably work day and night to best his 75% result of 2004. Hence the wisdom, loathe as I am to use the term, of allowing him to run unopposed, as 100% will suit him just dandy. Proponents of this view couple it with the suspicion that there is little love lost between Speziale and his running mates, Freeholders Terry Duffy and Pat Lepore (if you doubt it, check out this video), and thus the Sheriff sees little value in expending his considerable electoral war chest on their behalf.

Back to the screening - there were, however, a few bright spots to report. First, Assembly leader Alex DeCroce, who represents District 26, strongly endorsed Rumana and publicly addressed the need to investigate why a promising Freeholder candidate would drop out in such a manner.

More prominently though, was Passaic County native and 2nd time contender for office in District 26, my fellow Hopkins man Jay Webber. While his opponent Larry Casha read from cue cards, Jay took command from behind the podium and won over the crowd not only with his eloquence on the issues, but by touting his Passaic County roots: he is from Clifton, and his Mom from Paterson. His parents (who served at length on the County Committee) and grandmother still reside in Passaic County, and as a longtime GOP volunteer and staffer for former Congressman Bill Martini, Jay even handed out "Rumana for Council" cards during the Chairman's first campaign in 1994, when Jay was living in the AMRs.

Finally, plans are on track for a party convention in Passaic County for the Presidential contest, as covered by Ms. Kindergan earlier in the week.
"At its executive committee meeting earlier this month, the Passaic County Regular Republican Organization considered holding a convention in June to allow Republican Party committee members and members of municipal Republican clubs to vote on their favorite Republican presidential candidate. The state primaries will likely occur in early February. The executive committee, which consists of municipal party leaders and other party officers, will likely vote on the idea at its March meeting.

Some local leaders think the effort will draw marginalized or less active Republicans into the fray...

The successful candidate would get an endorsement from the county party. If the county's plan works as it is supposed to, the party will get an influx of fresh faces mobilized to work in local races...

Some even hope the process could expand further, and that a convention-style process could help the county committee to choose freeholder candidates in coming years."
This is absolutely a step in the right direction and is the best move Rumana has yet made. Despite the cynical attitude of his critics, including his predecessor who discounts the importance of the Presidential race even at this early stage, the Chairman should absolutely move ahead with any and all efforts that connect highly-motivated issue-oriented conservative voters scattered around Passaic County with the need to support Republican candidates at the local and county levels. This is one of the critical ways to widen the volunteer pool and fundraising base.


jayme alfano said...

George I really expected you to be more open minded, or st leat not so one sided. I have been asking for Leadership since Sept. with 2 specific non county committee people in Litte Falls who continue to do massive damage. They showed up at the screening, I went right to Scott and he did nothing.He even went so far as to say "well Mike Mecca is here and he isn't county committee" guess what?? HE IS!!!We couldn't get a quorem to the screening, what makes you think we will for the convention? How about you write an atricle in the Hereld attacking Scott's poor leadership like you did for Peter??? I'm disgusted.

George Ajjan said...

A consultant aligned with the Larry Casha campaign sent me the following:

I read your blog about the issues facing the Passaic County Republicans. I agree with most of them (particularly on the county level), however your characterization of the difference between Casha and Webber is off the mark.

Jay may be a "hometown boy" from Passaic County, but Larry has actually been working to elect Republicans at all levels for years. He has run for and won election to his Borough Council (ending his service as Council President) and has done pro-bono work for local fire and first aid squads. His government, political and community experience make him an ideal candidate for Assembly, not to mention a representative of the taxpayers in the 26th District.

If you'd like to learn more about Larry click over to his website at www.cashaforassembly.org. I think you'll find that Larry will make a great Assemblyman for Passaic and Morris counties.

Reagan Republican said...

Dear George,
For Gods sake be honest for the sake of our party. Rumana should be ashamed of himself and resign immediately. Your previous columns questioned Rumana's ability and strategy to raise money. Since the last election there has not been any effort to raise money which creates organization. Money and organization cultivates new quality candidates. It is obvious that Ms. Alfano is correct, Rumana is weak and ineffective. Your opinion a county convention will recruit new faces and create energy is almost comical! After Rumana submitted Herb Sorkin for assembly in the 34th district. Herb is a nice guy who is a few years younger than Rumana's buddy Jerry Porter. Herb is not exactly a young new face; he is in his mid eighties.
With less than 90 people at Tuesday's screening process shows Rumania’s chairmanship is very ineffective. The interest amongst party faithful is discouraging and lacks energy and direction. The so-called new energy Rumana promised when he was elected chairman clearly was not evident Tuesday night. Where were Paterson and Passaic county committee members? Why weren't these good people from Paterson and Passaic not bussed in for this screening meeting like they were for the chairman's election? Why has Rumana not met with the Paterson or Passaic county committee members since his election as chairman? It is evident that Rumana feels his own election is more important then our screening process. So much for the inclusive argument and new direction used by Rumana last year. Paterson and Passaic used again just like Englehardt did in the past. It is obvious and evident that you do not want to be objective but don't be a Rumana puppet! Since November's election, it is obvious there was absolutely no effort to recruit candidates or raise money. The only people that suffer under this weak leadership are the rank and file. Without any candidates on the state or county level, our local candidates are definitely in danger. Under Rumana, we have lost Haledon, Little Falls and Pomptom Lakes last year. Please don't sugarcoat the truth about our party. Call for Rumana's resignation immediately.

Anonymous said...

A party convention is an excellent reform that should be implemented, but it alone will not be enough. I feel almost as if the Passaic County GOP has gotten itself into a “chicken or the egg” scenario. The question is, will good candidates be able to raise the kind of money needed to build the party up, or is the party structure what is necessary in order to energize good candidates to run? My sense is the latter. Perhaps a comparison will help.

Nassau County in Long Island, NY is a very diverse county. Like Passaic County, it is mostly suburban, with pockets of urban areas. Nassau County has double the population of Passaic County, and is represented by 4 House members, only one of which (Peter King) at the moment is a Republican. The other 3 (Steve Israel, Carolyn McCarthy, and Gary Ackerman) are all Democrats. As readers of George’s blog are aware, Passaic County has two congressmen (Bill Pascrell and Scott Garrett).

In Nassau, more specifically in the town of Westbury, NY, lies the Nassau County GOP headquarters, a 3 story, fully staffed operation raising money on a daily basis from individuals, companies, small businesses, PACs, whatever is necessary to keep the party’s war-chest overflowing. They oversee the recruitment of candidates for every office from Congress right down to town council persons and town supervisors. Keeping the funds pouring in is the only way to ensure any level of competitiveness in elections each year – it’s as simple as that. The Passaic GOP needs to rid itself of its habit of holding 2-3 fundraisers per year at election time. They should be working the email, working the phones, mailing letters, everyday to bring in new revenue.

For example, if Bill Pascrell wins every 2 years with 65 % of the vote, that means the other 35% of voters can’t stand him. That may not be your whole fundraising base, but it’s one heck of a good start.

The other fact of life that the GOP hasn’t picked up from Democrats is that in order to get things done you need to pay people. Volunteering is a great concept, but people need to live too. If you offered $100 a day for people to come stuff envelopes or make phone calls you would have them lined up out the door! There are plenty of seniors, students on vacation from school, currently unemployed, etc. who would gladly pitch in. But, again, the funds have to be there to get the process started.

For too long, Passaic County Republican officials have treated the party as a vehicle for advancing their own agendas. There has been no party building. Politics is not a part time, “whenever I feel like paying attention to it,” gig. It is a business. If it wasn’t, people like Karl Rove and James Carville wouldn’t have jobs!!! It may shock the Passaic GOP to learn this, but there are actually people out there who believe in the idea and the value of Good Government, and would gladly work to achieve that. But, when you’re raising 1/10 what your Democrat rivals are each year, you can kiss any hope of bringing good government back to Passaic County goodbye.

TheLucidLibertarian said...

ANONYMOUS is right. In the 2005 Governor's race (Corzine) and 2006 Senate Race (Menendez), the Democrats put out over $1 million on the street state wide in thier Get Out the Vote operation on Election Day. The GOP hasn't come close to shelling out dough like that in years. And, the reality is, elections can not be won without money.

HaledonHound said...

So Alex DeCroce gave Rumana his vote of confidence? Thats like getting Britney Spears reccomendation for a hair stylist.

These two are clearly wearing the pale pastels of the wuss wing of the NJGOP, not the bold colors of Reagan conservatives who now may be even more likely to vote for conservative Democrats like Terry Duffy and Bruce James. If this keeps up, the only political competition in Passaic County will be how many signs each Democrat steals to try to get a higher % and whether you are John Currie's friend or foe.

We need young pro-growth Republicans who will free New Jersey from socialistic tax rates and an acceptance for mediocrity, not bumbling RepubliCAN'T fools who are more lame and soulless than the Democratic congress.

TheLucidLibertarian said...

The discussion taking place here regarding the Passaic GOP has been very lively, to say the least. Good debate is always healthy.

However, I think that pushing for Rumana's resignation is a bit premature. Who would replace him? Nevertheless, the comments about party structure and the future should not be taken lightly.

New Jersey has (for such a small state in size) one of the largest number of lobbying organizations, political action committees, business groups, taxpayer watchdog groups, auto dealers associations, chambers of commerce etc etc. of any state in the nation. Manufacturing may have diminished somewhat in NJ, but we still have plenty of pharmaceutical companies and other corporations, and North Jersey is filled with small businesses struggling to get by in a tax, spend, and grow-state-government Democrat environment.

We may sound like broken records over here at times, but why hasn't the Passaic County GOP tapped into these funding sources??? I'd venture that not only in Passaic, but in Essex and Bergen as well, these types of resources have never been sought out. Jayme Alfano is right, it is disgusting, and pathetic, that Passaic Democrats can spend $1.2 million without batting an eyelash to win county freeholder elections, and yet the GOP still goes around looking for $500 donations from its same 4 page list of individuals who have been donating to the party for decades.

Something has got to change.

Anonymous said...

I am supprised no one has also brought up the obvious. Repbulican turned Democrat, Freeholder Bruce James is best friends with Scott Rummana and Tom Buckley. It is obvious that deals are being cut all over the place and Republicans and Democrats alike should be disgusted.

HaledonHound said...

This has nothing to do with Bruce James or Rumana being Wayne's Mayor. Nor is it all Rumana. It is the culture of defeat, the culture of the Deathwood that has taken the Passaic GOP to where it is.

Maybe rather than worrying about what general with no army on top, county Republicans should start going to the Freeholders and legislators and challenge them. The Freeholder Board is not a bunch of socialist left-wingers for the most part, some of them could be persuaded to vote conservatively if the public challenges them to. The legislators are left of center, and I think moderate Republicans in the 34th and 35th could not only energize Republicans in Clifton, Hawthorne, North Haledon, Totowa in West Paterson, but reach out to minority Democrat families in East Orange, Montclair and Paterson tired of the taxation and deprivation of NJ of late.

Moreover, if Democratic voters start embracing the newly revived GOP, maybe a few good Democratic officials will leave their hollowed out party and join us.

Frank Cohen said...

Note to the doom and gloomers: quit griping and start raising for your own town's GOP organization if you wont do it for the county. Mike Mecca and Peter Murphy had years to prove their total ineptitude. They still hold the benchmark for poor leadership as far as I am concerned.