With two weeks to go, the Teaneck Democratic Municipal Committee held a candidates’ forum and GOTV event on Sunday. After subtracting aides and speakers there were about 37 attendees, equivalent to 0.1% of Teaneck’s population – perhaps a sign of Democratic apathy during this election moment. The focus of attention was on Representative Rothman and the five county candidates. Teaneck’s legendary Senator Weinberg introduced each speaker.
From the states’ Division of Elections, my source for data, Bergen County voter registration is 48% unaffiliated, 31% Democrats, and 21% Republicans, but county Republicans have been making gains in the last two years. In 2006 and 2007 Democrats won the seats. In 2008 Republican Kathleen Donovan won the County Clerk job by 10,500 votes, and three Democrats won the freeholder positions. In 2009 two Republicans won the freeholder jobs. Now following Christie’s election, with property tax concerns, in a distressed economy, and with an anti-incumbency mood, the Democrats are more challenged.
Representative Steve Rothman, in his seventh 2-year term in office, spoke volubly about his achievements following his habit of periodically raising his voice and heightening his enthusiasm over key points. He overwhelmingly won his last election with 105,853 votes against his opponent’s 40,879 votes, and has a slimmer but sufficient edge (NY Times says 99.8% chance) to win the race.
Leo McGuire, the energetic, charismatic two-term sheriff, who won his last election with a margin of 22,000 votes, is in a race with Emerson’s Police Chief Republican Michael Saudino. McGuire has a campaign chest 3 times the size of his opponent, but a September poll reported by Charles Stile showed that while he has a strong 45% job approval rating, he only holds a three point lead.
County Executive Dennis McNerney, serving a second term, has a particularly steep challenge. In a low-key presentation he spoke about sharing and consolidating services, green space and parks, and expense cutting. In 2006 he was re-elected with a 53,000 vote margin. However, in more recent years controversies among county Democrats and scandals within his party have not helped him. In a testy debate last week his opponent Kathleen Donovan said she would freeze the tax rate for a year and then hold increases at or below the level of inflation. She also trumpeted her reductions in the county clerk’s budget. In late September an internal Republican Party poll showed Donovan holding a 13-point lead over McNerney, whereas, in August a Democratic Party poll reported a tighter contest with a 4% lead for Donovan. GOTV and anticipated increased ad spending will be necessary to turn around McNerney’s fate, as well as that of the three freeholder candidates where issues include pay-to-play, taxes and infrastructure. After some good years, times have become harder for Bergen County Democratic office holders.