Bergen Exec Race Heats Up With a Month to Go

By David Cruz

Hosting the annual Italian flag-raising in Hackensack, Republican incumbent Kathleen Donovan grudgingly introduced her opponent, Democrat James Tedesco. In a race that has been fierce — and litigious — from the start, the gloves have now really come off, to the point where, in a debate this week, Donovan called Tedesco “stupid,” not the worst thing you could say about someone, but, in a public debate, is, at least, impolite.

“I think it’s been very cordial,” said Donovan today. “We disagree, clearly. Freeholder Tedesco has his way of thinking. I, for the most part, disagree with what he represents. It’s America. We live in the greatest country in the world. Thank God we can disagree. I don’t have any problem with that.”

But Donovan has been on the attack. Her ads paint Tedesco and his fellow Dems as light on ethics and heavy on cronyism. Tedesco, the former Paramus mayor, utilities executive and current freeholder says he wants to take the high road. His TV ads portray a family man and community servant.

“I think people want people to work together,” said Tedesco. “You don’t have to always agree, but at the end of the day, you have to come to some kind of solution or compromise and that’s what I believe the voters expect. Not only the voters; that’s what people expect.”

With a population of more than 920,000, 70 municipalities and a median household income of $80,000, Bergen County is the largest and one of the wealthiest counties in the state. It’s no wonder this race is being watched closely. The candidates do agree on very little. One example of where they part company is on the proposed merger of the county police and sheriff’s departments, a controversial proposal that has been brewing for some time. Tedesco says a merger could save $200 million over 25 years.

“There is a lot of duplication,” said Tedesco, “so what you want to do is, you want to take those two agencies, bring the best of both of them together, provide that high quality of service, but at the end of the day, where you can capture savings, you want to take those savings, give some back to the taxpayers, but also put more of it back into providing even more policing.”

Donovan says the two agencies are too different to merge. “We ought to be talking about sharing services and I have been talking about that, among police departments,” she says, “but certainly county police could share services with, and they do, all our municipalities. That’s the kind of merger we’re talking about. Or if not a merger, then a consolidation, sharing of services.”

Democrats have tried to make Chris Christie an issue. Last time he was here, he was doing a mea culpa in Fort Lee over the lane closures at the GWB. Holly Schepisi is a Donovan supporter. She says the governor is a non-issue.

“I don’t see it. I don’t hear it. I think people have kind of looked at it as a footnote,” she said, “so, I don’t think it factors in, really, whatsoever.”

But, there is one thing the candidates do agree on, and that’s issue number one.

“Taxes, taxes, taxes is the most important thing in this race,” said Donovan.

“Zero tax increase,” added Tedesco. “That’s what the taxpayers want.”

PolitickerNJ Reporter Mark Bonamo agreed. “It’s always about taxes,” he said. “You know what they say, death and taxes is most important. He who is not first on the issue of taxes is going to face political death in the fall.”

Fall elections seem to start later and later nowadays but in Bergen County the battle has been fully engaged and with a month to go before election day, voters are going to have a hard time avoiding hearing about it, whether they like it, or not.