By DANIEL SONNINSHINE
The Bergen County Republican Organization (“BCRO”) has struggled in recent times to regain seats at the county level. Although it has had respected leaders in Paul DiGaetano and Robert Yudin over the last several years, in-fighting among Bergen County GOP leadership, coupled with substantial fundraising difficulties, have hampered progress. It has been quite some time since Bergen County has seen a Republican elected as county executive, sheriff, or county freeholder. With the election of Jack Zisa as the new BCRO chairman, many are now hopeful.
Zisa, a long time player in Bergen County politics, including formerly serving as the mayor of Hackensack – the county’s largest city which is normally a Democrat stronghold – took the reins of the BCRO in June. Already, excitement is beginning to grow throughout the county. Many Republicans who are members of local GOP clubs, as well as those who serve on the county committees for their respective towns, have become motivated by Zisa’s rise to the county chairmanship post. Some outwardly optimistic, others cautiously optimistic, look to him for unification within the party – and it seems that such may be occurring.
The turnout of county committee members to vote for the GOP candidate for the county sheriff special election was promising. A more-than-usual amount of the county committee electorate attended the Hasbrouck Heights gathering, which resulted in well-liked Hasbrouck Heights Mayor John “Jack” DeLorenzo winning the nomination over a few other candidates, including popular Midland Park Mayor Harry Shortway. The turnout – and enthusiasm – is notable, given that this election is a very likely a loss for the GOP. Although former sheriff Michael Saudino, a Republican-turned-Democrat, abruptly left the post amid purported race-related comments, the Democrat candidate is still heavily favored to win in November.
Likewise, the Republican candidates for county executive and the freeholder board – Norman Schmelz, Hector Olmo, and Eric Kulmala – have a significant uphill battle in this year’s election. Simply, the Democrats have substantially greater name recognition and, more so, a much bigger bank of money. The latter issue, funding, however, has, for the first time in recent years, been promising since Zisa took over the chairmanship role. Apparently, the BCRO is raising some money. And while this year’s candidates may suffer at the hands of the Bergen County Democratic regime’s war chest, next year the field of money may get closer to evening out. And if Zisa is able to wrangle candidates who provide excitement for the electorate, the combination could result in a win.
The Bergen Young Republicans have been a glowing light in a dim overall array of GOP players. Matthew Gilson, a 27-year-old lawyer who serves as the chairman of the Bergen County Young Republicans, has recently won a few impressive court battles on behalf of GOP candidates. Giancarlo Ghione, New Jersey’s statewide Young Republican Chairman, has been an important force in GOP growth in his home Bergen County. And new BCRO treasurer John Cross, a charismatic personality, has emerged as an integral leader for the younger Republicans.
The Bergen County GOP party also has a few veteran elected officials who provide guidance, clarity, and strength on the top-end of the state political spectrum. A powerful mainstay in Republican politics who is respected by elected officials across the board, State Senator Gerald Cardinale is the go-to official for wise leadership advice. The patriarch of the county for GOP voters, Cardinale is a proud conservative who has led by example and policy; according to most political observers, he is unbeatable because of his popularity within the Republican base. Joining Cardinale as admired Bergen-elected officials in state offices are Kevin Rooney (state assembly), Holly Schepisi (state assembly), Kristin Corrado (state senate), Christopher DePhillips (state assembly), and Robert Auth (state assembly). This cache of leaders, collectively and individually, have encouraged voters with not only their wins but their accomplishments in the state legislature.
The combination of the new BCRO leadership, young Republican burst, and experienced guidance may lead Bergen County Republicans into a new, overall positive era. So long as the party doesn’t revert to its fractured status.
Daniel Sonninshine is an Empire State News staff writer, who is in search of greatness. A 20-something smart fellow, he is now lifting weights in an effort to obtain more power. If that doesn’t work, he will ask to write more editorials for Empire State News and less fact articles.
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