You Don't Mess with the Zohan, BCRO style

It's hard to believe that less than a year ago, I supported the election of Rob Ortiz as Bergen County Republican Chair.

But it didn't take long for Ortiz to fall well short of expectations, causing 3 of his key backers to lose faith and encourage his ouster - myself, up-and-coming fundraising star Adam Alonso, and District 36 operative Joe Caruso. (Ortiz and his cabal understand the gravity of this realignment, so I'll spare my readers the specifics).

Enter Bob Yudin, longtime GOP activist/donor, who announced in April his intention to run against Ortiz for the BCRO Chairmanship, citing a litany of shortcomings.

Immediately following the Senate Primary on June 3, Yudin and I clarified past misunderstandings, and I began actively supporting his quest for the Chairmanship in a public relations capacity: creating a website, writing and distributing press releases, and interacting with the media.

For those readers who prefer a visual demonstration of my realignment, please visit, type "rob ortiz", and click "I'm Feeling Lucky".

Bob Yudin had done a good job laying the groundwork. He had circulated a number of letters to the County Committee, plus mailed out endorsements from heavyweights like State Senator Gerry Cardinale and former Assembly Majority Leader Paul DiGaetano. More importantly, he had made himself omni-present throughout Bergen County, visiting with Republican clubs (I ran into him by chance while stumping for Murray Sabrin back in February at the Bergenfield GOP club meeting - which shows that he had been working the circuit for quite a while). This is super-important to the County Committee, and Yudin executed this aspect far, far better than Ortiz (the Dale Florio wanna-be) ever even realized.

One unpredictable component presented itself - namely, the candidacy of Ben Focarino, who lost to Ortiz in last year's Chairman election. Some suggested that Focarino had cut a deal with Ortiz and ran only as a stalking horse, while others felt he legitimately intended to become BCRO Chairman. The fact that Focarino actively made phone calls to County Committee, however, leads one to believe the latter.

On Tuesday, June 10, the votes were cast (exclusive of Orthodox Jews observing the Shavuot שבועות holiday, who Ortiz sought to disenfranchise by resisting attempts to extend voting hours past sundown). I took the lead in blasting Ortiz for this maneuver, quoted in a Yudin press release as follows:
"It is unacceptable for any Chairman to be so insensitive to a religious group and seek to deny them the right to participate in a critical vote. Bergen's Jewish community deserves better than Rob Ortiz.

Just imagine if the Hebrews had been led by someone as clueless as Ortiz. He probably would have abandoned them to become Pharoah's lobbyist, and they'd still be wandering the desert!"
Anyway, with a total turnout of 564, Ortiz suffered a 58% no confidence vote, but Yudin accounted for only 40% of that, so Focarino was eliminated and a run-off election a week later would determine the next Chairman. Clearly, Ortiz's minions were scared for their lives, not only because almost 6 out of 10 rejected the incumbent, but because Focarino then endorsed Yudin and also mailed a letter to the entire County Committee, plus made phone calls in support of Yudin.

So, out came the ridiculous moves of Ortiz's wondrous cabal, also known as "KZ and the Moonshine Band" (paragon of party loyalty and leader of the inner circle Keith Zakheim, election attorney extraordinaire David Catugno, and diatribe freelancer Matt Kazmierczyk)
  • "BOB YUDIN JUST DOESN'T ADD UP" - Matt Kazmierczykdo we even need to dignify the absurdity of a 69-year-old white guy preach to a Hispanic man about cultural outreach?"
  • a whisper campaign asserting that Yudin's business practices "might" lead to investigation by the Treasury Department (we don't know to whom we can attribute this remark, but I don't suspect it will be forgotten by the Yudin family anytime soon, so if anyone out there knows who did it, you'd best throw that person under the bus ASAP)
None of this mattered. Yudin knew he was going to win, and win big. While the anticipated 2:1 margin didn't pan out in the end, he did win 57% of the vote - the same margin by which Ortiz claimed victory last year. I guess the crown jewel of Ortiz's campaign of 2008 (not the smart one we ran for him in 2007), namely the endorsement of out-of-county political bosses and lobbyists, didn't quite impress the BCRO rank-and-file.

The most interesting element is the turnout: in 2007, 458 County Committee members voted; but in 2008, 729 people voted - that represents a 59% increase!

And so I am reminded of the movie "You Don't Mess with the Zohan" (which I do plan to see if only to support my friend Maysoon Zayid, who plays the role of Nadira in the film) - I leave it to the reader to uncover the analogy. Along those lines, expect a vigorous ethnic outreach effort on Yudin's part in his capacity as BCRO Chair - he understands the importance of this type of inclusive coalition building and made it a major campaign plank.