Communication breakdown, it's always the same

It drives me nuts that local political activity completely shuts down from early November until practically April when petitions are due for the Primary ballots. (although I wouldn't say I'm having a nervous breakdown - drive me insane!) From what I have seen over the past several years, this is the modus operandi of the Passaic County Republican Party, and it remains so. In this regard at least, the ascension of Scott Rumana to the Chairmanship has amounted to more of the same.

Had the Party really had its act together and our leaders demonstrated imagination and energy, we would have begun recruiting candidates for Freeholder, State Assembly, and (hold your breath) Sheriff last year. The Assembly and State Senate candidates could have served as surrogates for Tom Kean, Jr. helping the ticket in 2006 and starting their name recognition building process for their own 2007 races. I guess that's a pipe dream.

But the way it looks right now, we don't even have Freeholder candidates, let alone State Assembly challengers in D35 and D34. That's poor. And we will probably continue to play defense in municipal races. So be it. I have also heard, with little shock value, that the preference among the Passaic County GOP municipal leaders is to allow the incumbent Sheriff Jerry Speziale to run unopposed. Once I confirm this, I will write in more detail about it.

From what I can sense (email still works in Africa, mind you), there is large-scale disappointment with the leadership that Rumana has provided. Of course no realistic person would blame him for the setbacks in last November's race – the local tickets suffered from a national backlash against Republicans and one newly elected Chairman, even with a convincing mandate as he had, could not have been expected to counteract a national trend.

But what came next? There has been a pitiful lack of communication from the top, and people are grumbling about it.

"Why is Rumana always using Buckley and Semeraro to do all the work of the chairman?" asks one such unhappy insider, referring to talented longtime operative Tom Buckley and Wayne attorney Mark Semeraro who played a key role in shepherding the legal maneuverings surrounding last year's circus of a Chairman's race. Rumana seems to have failed to cultivate relationships even with key elected figures in important towns for the GOP. Morale is low and at this point he seems to have squandered much of the goodwill he carried in with him.

This can be seen in several domains. First, more consistent communiqués from the Chairman right after the election and in early January would have kept the County Committee more engaged and at least pre-empted the usual critiques: "only cared about the County Committee when their votes were needed", etc. I understand that Rumana recently got married and thus has had plenty on his plate – fine, then delegate. Jennifer Scully, the young Vice-Chair from Hawthorne, is a great communicator with lots of energy. Rumana needs to rely more on her as a spokesperson, since she serves in an official capacity.

Secondly – the pending Presidential race. While Rumana's team showed an admirable grassroots style in 2005 by doing a straw poll on their County Committee members in Wayne for the 7-way GOP Gubernatorial primary, this has not yet been done for the far more important Presidential contest, and already municipal leaders are going their own ways and joining up with (so far) McCain or Giuliani. In my personal opinion, this should indeed fall to the individual level in terms of endorsements, but Rumana has missed a great opportunity to involve the newly-elected County Committee while stoking some excitement and issue-based discussion.

Thirdly, the excuse "we have no money" is pathetic. Even from Africa, I can see that the media in NJ is anti-Democrat at the moment – they don't like one-party rule – and there are key fiscal issues that the GOP can attack at any time during the year (not just October). Holding press conferences to draw attention to hot issues affecting property taxes costs nothing, generates positive media coverage, and excites the base. People will be more likely to give to the GOP if they see a concerted year-round effort, not a glorified begging operation in the fall.

No one is expecting miracles, but Rumana's radio silence has left a lot to be desired. It is not too late and I hold out hope that Rumana will institute a convention process for the nominations, as has been rumored. In any case, he needs to take a more hands-on role to reassure those who elected him and trusted him to lead the Passaic County Republican Party.

I will close on a humorous note with a quip from one outside observer: "They should bring [former Chairman Mike] Mecca back – at least he was entertaining!"