Defeat for the politics of hate

As expected, Kevin O'Toole, David Russo, and Scott Rumana sailed to victory in District 40 over Todd Caliguire, John Ginty, and Joe Schweighardt (who had atrocious yard signs, by the way) in Tuesday's primary.

The BCRO-endorsed Freeholder candidates - Paul Duggan, Charlie Kahwaty, and Bob Yudin - also won the countywide contest. Their counterparts on the line in Passaic County - Jerry Holt and Joe Stinziano - also won without a sweat. Haven't seen the returns from Totowa yet, though.

After voting in Clifton during the day in District 34, I spent the evening at the Grand Chalet in Wayne (which old timers like me remember as Beefsteak Charlie's). Spirits were high and a huge, star-studded crowd from around the Garden State turned out to support O'Toole and his team including:
  1. Tom Wilson, Republican State Chairman, up for re-election
  2. Peter Mancuso, Wilson's expected rival for the post, the vote for which takes place on June 14
  3. Bill Baroni, District 14 State Senate nominee
  4. Tom Kean, Jr., District 21 State Senator

In addition, this was the HQ for virtually the entire Essex County GOP and many prominent Bergen County Republicans turned up as well, including former Freeholder Lisa Randall, key operatives and fundraisers from D40, Fair Lawn Councilman Ed Trawinski, Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk, and others. Even Duggan and Kahwaty turned up, celebrating their primary win "in exile", while their running mate Bob Yudin remained holed up at the BCRO.

Désirée Taylor from NJN led the TV coverage of the victory celebration (go to 7:13 for the segment about District 40). She mentioned that a 2:1 margin of victory was expected, in the end O'Toole captured 54% of the vote to Caliguire's 40% (Victor Rabbat, whose campaign his longtime friend and former GOP Chairman Mike Mecca described as "shortsighted at best", won 6%). However, the Assembly races broke at a wide spread: 59% to 41%.

Thus, the margin was less than anticipated but still more than decisive and the energy in the room Tuesday night bore witness to that. O'Toole spoke with the same passion that he demonstrated throughout the campaign:

"The voters have rejected the politics of HATE!

People asked us why we are spending so much money; well, we are spending the money to rebuild the Republican Party in New Jersey, which is perilously close to not even existing." (continued...)


I have said all along that I would not want to be Guy Talarico on June 6. Well, it seems that Guy Talarico doesn't want to be Bergen County Chairman anymore - he expressed his intent to resign yesterday:
"I am proud of my record and the advancements we have made since I took office as Chairman. I have decided that it is time for someone else to take the helm and for me to give my family and profession the time that they deserve and require."
Bye, Guy. The Bergen Record barbecued Talarico one last time, and RED Faction leader Joe Caruso, who had a public falling out with the soon-to-be-former-Chairman when the disastrous D40 Primary was launched, blasted him as well:
"The dark ages of the Republican Party in Bergen are over...The facts speak for themselves. Whether he was a great chairman or a bad chairman, under his reign the party has suffered numerous defeats and splits, bankruptcy and humiliation."
But now comes the all important process of selecting a replacement, which needs to be done in the next 30 days. (note: though I am a Passaic County resident, I believe that all North Jersey Republicans have a stake in neighboring Bergen's future, because of its proximity, its status as the largest county, and its trend-setting track record. Where Bergen goes, other counties follow.)

The first factor to consider is the timing, because Talarico's term would have been up in 2008 anyway. Thus, whoever the County Committee selects at this stage will hold the post for only 11 months. Therefore, the first issue to consider is whether the predicament facing the BCRO would best be rectified by a caretaker Chairman, who would re-establish fiscal order, and tend to the task alluded to by Trawinski in a press release he issued yesterday on the heels of Talarico's resignation:
"...give the party a full accounting of the BCRO finances and let the organization’s rank and file know how deeply in debt [Talarico] has left the party. I am sure there are financial blunders made by Mr. Talarico that will hamstring the party for years to come."
On the other hand, some argue that such an approach would effectively concede 2007, the lowest turnout year of the 4-year cycle and therefore the GOP's best shot at a win. From that perspective, the Chairman should be someone who plans on serving at length and getting the party out of the entire hospital, not just out of the ICU (the first approach).

Several names have been suggested thus far as potential Chairs. I will go through each one by one in alphabetical order and give pros and cons.

Vince Micco

  • Pros
    • conservative credentials - Few would challenge Micco's dedication to conservative causes. He's a respected veteran and the "RINO hunters" around the county would find little to target.
    • party involvement and loyalty - Micco has been a loyal Republican foot soldier for years, a Bergen County Young Republican officer (when the group was functional), plus he took on Steve Rothman in 2006.
    • youth - Micco is young, and thus his selection would represent somewhat of a changing of the guard and an investment in the up-and-coming generation of Republican leadership, dovetailing nicely with the wins of Scott Rumana and Jay Webber, as well as the promotions of O'Toole and Bill Baroni to name a few.
  • Cons
    • fundraising - some would suggest that Micco did not rock the boat raising money for his 2006 congressional run, and therefore he wouldn't be successful raising money as Chairman. While this is true, it reflects more the dynamics of the race than it does Micco's abilities - he would have raised much more than that had he chosen to run in D36.

Rob Ortiz

  • Pros
    • fundraising ability - Ortiz is one of the most prolific fundraisers in New Jersey Republican circles. With him in charge, the BCRO will certainly have a stronger link to "the money people".
    • youth - the same argument in favor of Micco also applies to Ortiz.
    • outreach factor - since Hispanics are an emerging Garden State demographic, a Republican Chairman of the most important county in NJ from that community would send a strong signal of inclusion, though the gains to Bergen specifically would be marginal.
  • Cons
    • grassroots exposure - Ortiz is a largely unknown quantity in the eyes of the County Committee and has focused his efforts far more on big-ticket fundraisers than on door-to-door neighborhood GOTV pushes. It's "guest list" versus "walking list". Thus if he did become Chairman, it would be incumbent upon him to hire a full-time Executive Director to handle the political nuts and bolts while Ortiz oversaw an unprecedented fundraising operation personally.

Lisa Randall

  • Pros
    • experience - Randall has an impressive resume, having been elected as a State Assemblywoman as well as a Freeholder, and appointed to prominent posts in both the Kean Sr. and Whitman Administrations. With her at the helm, a seasoned insider will be guiding the party's effort, which will instill confidence in the BCRO. This is a big plus.
  • Cons
    • grudge factor - Randall is a prime target for the "RINO hunters", having been associated with Kean, Whitman, and Kathe Donovan - all the usual targets of these fruitless forays. My sense is that dislike for Randall runs deeper than it does for any of the other potential contenders.

David Russo

  • Pros
    • experience - Russo has been in the Assembly since 1990. He's a pro. He's been a successful fundraiser and has helped prop up the BCRO.
  • Cons
    • grudge factor - Russo just came out of a primary that he won handily, but he remains high on the hit-list of Talarico's minions.
    • elected official - both of Russo's running mates are party chairs in the other 2 counties of District 40. Russo becoming BCRO Chair would be heading in exactly the wrong direction. We need to eliminate conflicts of interest, not establish more of them. Russo should continue to do good work in Trenton, not become Chair - and if he does, it should be expressly in a caretaker capacity.

Bill Thomson

  • Pros
    • conservative credentials - ideological purists would probably be happy with Thomson's reputation for conservatism.
    • party involvement and loyalty - Thomson has been heavily involved with the party for years, and his wife Lauren was a candidate for Freeholder last year. He even sought a candidacy for Chairman last year, which got hung up with filing technicalities.
  • Cons
    • organizational affiliation - Thomson is prominently linked to the Christian Coalition, which is a source of discomfort for many Republicans in the area who are adamant that religion should be kept out of politics.
    • grudge factor - Thomson joined with Trawinski in opposition to Talarico, as they worked together on the "Anybody But Guy" project. Although, Thomson supported the line in 2006 when Todd Caliguire won a messy primary over Donovan, in which Trawinski supported the loser.

Ed Trawinski

  • Pros
    • geography - with all the slogans about who's "south of Route 4" in Bergenese, Trawinski's hometown of Fair Lawn is a nice compromise - Route 4 runs straight through town. He's right at the county's center of gravity.
    • party involvement and loyalty - it's hard to top "Steady Eddie" in this category. He's taken more than one for the team by putting his neck on the line as a candidate for US Congress (District 9 against Steve Rothman in 2004), State Assembly (District 38 against Bob Gordon/Joan Voss in 2003), and Freeholder (2002).
    • vote getting ability - while the Chairman's job is not to charm the voters, someone like Trawinski, who was able to win a multi-ethnic middle-class town by 1,000 votes in the same year that Corzine won it by 2,000, will have credibility for having personally demonstrated the skills it will take to "Bring Back Bergen".
  • Cons
    • elected official - true, he's "only a councilman", but my principle stands - party chairs should not be elected officials, because there will always be conflicts of interest.
    • grudge factor - Trawinski has been vocal in opposition to Talarico for quite some time, having spearheaded a recall drive months ago. Talarico loyalists may seek to undermine him, although at this point there's not much to fear.

and just for laughs...

Kevin Collins

  • Pros
    • judgement - If given the opportunity to alter skin tone on disgusting race-baiting mailers, he will refrain.
  • Cons
    • everything - he's Kevin Collins.

The machinations of Bergen County GOP politics can be quite complex. So if I have missed anything, I hope people will correct or augment my points in the comments section.

By design I did not bring Joe Caruso into the discussion, because he lives in Passaic County and therefore would not be eligible for this post. Joe will definitely continue the RED Faction efforts that have injected much-needed energy into the party, and coordinate more closely with the BCRO once the guard is changed and the place is "fumigated", to use Paul Duggan's terminology.

Caruso has a major July 13 fundraiser in the works, particularly to support the D36 candidates, which will feature some high-profile guests. He and his team already have fired a shot across the bow of Ferriero and Sarlo (who has been subpoenaed) by getting Michael Guarino on the ballot for State Senate and Aileen Vitale as a running mate for Carmen Pio Costa. We now have a full and committed slate for District 36.

Other Districts

I also wish a hearty congratulations to Jay Webber for scoring a huge win in District 26 over Larry Casha. Webber never gave up after challenging Bob Martin in 2003, and had a team of committed supporters that earned him a wide margin of victory, despite having been outspent more than 2:1 by Casha. It goes to show that a strong grassroots game is essential in a Republican Primary with low turnout. In Passaic County, where he grew up and where he had the line, Webber won nearly 3:1. Well done Jay!

The only sad part about Tuesday night for me was the defeat of Guy Gregg for State Senate in District 24. I had high hopes for Gregg to join O'Toole and other newcomers to the State Senate to recharge the NJGOP. In the homestretch of the campaign, I was hearing that Gregg had not been running a good campaign up there in Sussex County and his opponent Steve Oroho outperformed him considerably. Even the endorsement of Congressman Scott Garrett was not enough to push Gregg to victory.