The Politics of Jerry Speziale

Wishing the Sheriff all the best in his new endeavor. (But, I can think of more than a few people who’d be thrilled if he took this advice.) – JG

Full Disclosure: I am an elected County Committeeman from the 3rd Voting District in Wanaque for the Passaic County Democratic Organization, Inc. – Matt

Passaic County Democrats were hit with a political bombshell yesterday. Political superstar and popular Sheriff Jerry Speziale abruptly resigned and took a position with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. A deal nearly nine months in the working, the appointment was orchestrated by State Senator Kevin O’Toole and Assemblyman Scott Rumana, leaving county Democrats reeling after the stunning revelation.  Chairman John Currie was not given the respect of a phone call to fill him in on the situation.  

While sympathizing with Speziale’s family situation, and respecting his right to make this move, local and countywide Democrats are disappointed with the abruptness in which Sheriff Speziale left the campaign trail.  After a disappointing 2009 election cycle where three Freeholders seats and the County Clerk’s race were all lost, Democrats in Passaic County are in a make-or-break situation.  A loss of one seat in November means losing majority control of the Freeholder Board in a county where there are 28,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans.  

The rank-and-file Democrats in Passaic County are not happy.  With Labor Day rapidly approaching, Sheriff Speziale’s resignation has both empowered a Republican Governor to appoint a replacement and left Democrats with no candidate for the office.  Speziale has stated he will donate his $1 million dollar war chest to “charities.”  Some might view that as a noble gesture, but the reality is that it would be extremely unfair to the local Democrats around the county who were counting on him during the Fall.  Much of that money came from donors who want to keep the County and the Sheriff’s office under Democratic control.  

Speziale should give the maximum allowed under law – $7,200 – to every local organization in the county.  He should write a $37,000 check to the Passaic County Democratic Organization and max out to both Freeholder candidates and the eventual Democratic nominee for Sheriff.  That still leaves money left over for charity.  Karma is a funny thing in politics, and I respect the Sheriff for wanting to work in a job free from running for reelection or the pressures that come from political office, but he needs to realize the ramifications and perception of his actions.  

Sheriff Speziale worked behind the scenes – for nine months – with high ranking Republican officials and a Republican Governor, all the while acting like a candidate, giving his fellow Democrats no indication of his intentions. Now his supporters – those who volunteered their time and efforts thanklessly on his behalf – are left to scramble for a replacement who will have less than three weeks to get a campaign infrastructure in place and raise money to compete with the Republican nominee, who has been campaigning since the start of the year. I’ll echo Chairman Currie’s words, if the reasons for taking the job were related to a man’s family, you have to respect that.  But the least Jerry Speziale can do is make one final political act to help the people who worked to get him elected in 2004 and 2007.

Comments (2)

  1. Thurman Hart

    It seems like only yesterday that Speziale was slapped for his patronage hirings. Oh, wait – it was yesterday.

    Like other sheriffs in New Jersey, Speziale has the power to bypass the Civil Service exam and hire up to 15 percent of his rank-and-file officers by himself. During the summer of 2009, Speziale hired eight new sheriff’s investigators. Several of the new hires had relatives who were sheriff’s officers and others had made financial contributions to Speziale’s reelection campaign, records show.

    In May, the Civil Service Commission ruled that the hirings violated the 15 percent threshold and ordered Speziale to terminate the employees within 30 days.

    How many you think will end up working at the Port Authority?

  2. JRB

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