The balloting won’t be until mid-June 2012, but the candidates vying to replace Victor Scudiery as Monmouth County Democratic Chairman are running as if the race will be decided on January 14.
Marlboro Councilman Frank LaRocca and businessman Vin Gopal, an Assembly candidate from the 11th legislative district last month, are building their alliances and working the phones. LaRocca is the law partner of Marlboro Mayor Jon Hornick. Gopal, a business partner of Scudiery. Hornick, considered a Democratic rising star statewide, is all in for his political and business partner as they seek to build an organization to propel the young mayor into higher office. Scudiery is officially neutral.
During Scudiery’s two decade tenure as chairman he has fought against the state Democratic organization bringing “outsiders” in to fill appointments in the county. Perhaps the most notable example is the Monmouth Prosecutor’s job in 2005. Acting Governor Richard Codey nominated Essex County resident Luis Valentin to succeed Republican John Kaye who had held the job for 21 years. Scudiery objected, wanting the job to go to Monmouth resident Allan Falk. Scudiery asked State Senator Joe Palaia, a Republican, to block Valentin’s appointment via senatorial courtesy. Palaia stayed out of the Democratic family feud, but Trenton Democrats responded by sending U.S. Senator/gubernatorial candidate Jon Corzine and Congressman Frank Pallone to Airport Plaza to demand that Scudiery step down as chairman. He didn’t.
LaRocca and Hornick, “LaHornicca,” are seen to be allied with the Trenton Democratic establishment. They have strong ties to State Democratic Chairman John Wisniewski. Democratic legal powerhouse, DeCotiis, FitzPatrick and Cole, of Teaneck, are the Marlboro borough attorneys.
Gopal, despite having a statewide network of his own, including a close alliance with Newark Mayor Cory Booker, is seen to represent local interests. During his Assembly campaign he expressed a commitment to building a homegrown Democratic organization.
Alliances in the chairman’s race are breaking along similar lines. Middletown Democratic Chair Joe Caliendo is backing Gopal. Caliendo and Howell Democratic Chair Steve Morlino often align their forces, creating an insurmountable voting block. If that alliance stands, Gopal will likely win.
“LaHornicca” has the support of former Red Bank Mayor Ed McKenna, who challenged Scudiery in 2000. McKenna’s law partner, Michael DuPont is also in the “LaHornicca” camp. DuPont is the treasurer of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. DeCotiis is the law firm for the Turnpike Authority.
However, the Red Bank Democrats are split. Ed Zipprich, the municipal chairman and a councilman supports Gopal.
Democratic campaign and media consultants Pat Politano, of Union County, and Jon Evans of Morris County, famous in Monmouth County for running Brian Unger’s Long Branch mayoral campaign in 2010, are supporting “LaHornicca.” Politano is closely aligned with former State Democratic Chairman Joe Cryan, a Union County Assemblyman and Undersheriff, and with Cryan’s running mate, Senator Ray Lesniak.
As hard as Gopal and “LaHornicca” are working on building their alliances with current municipal chairs and committee members, most of the voters may not yet be identified. The entire county committee, of both parties, is up for election in the June 5, 2012 primary. The current Monmouth County Democratic Committee has over 400 vacancies. The team that gets candidates to run for those empty seats could control the Monmouth Democratic Organization through June of 2014.