Sen. Bob Menendez, who now lives in the county, stated the above at the swearing in ceremony of James J. Tedesco as County Executive. Joan Voss, incoming Freeholder Chairwoman, exclaimed, “What a wonderful way to begin 2015.” The ceremony started with the colors, bagpipes and drums with further remarks from Sen. Cory Booker, Rep. Bill Pascrell, re-elected Sheriff Michael Saudino (a Republican) and State Senate President Steve Sweeney. The Bergen Community College theater had an overflow audience including Sen. Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and many other state legislators, local mayors, and councilmen (including Republicans) as well as John Currie state Democratic chair and Lou Stellato, county Democratic chair.
Jim Tedesco, a former councilman, mayor, freeholder and always a fireman set a high tone. Echoing Abraham Lincoln he said, “I have pledged to preside over a government of the people, by the people and for the people… It is my contract with the residents that good government will never yield to politics, that solutions will always trump ideology, and the voices of democracy will be heard… The doors of my administration are open to you.” The Oath of Office was administered by former governor and current State Senator Dick Codey who had performed the same task for Tedesco twice before.
Having earlier said, “In my administration there will not be Democratic or Republican ideas – just good ideas,” Tedesco announced he has already appointed as his county administrator Dominic Novelli, a Republican who served former County Executive Pat Schuber, and as his chief of staff Michelle DiIorgi, a Democrat who served previous Representative Steve Rothman.
Tedesco mentioned that as his first official act on January 1 he signed a Memorandum of Agreement making the Police Department a Division of the Sheriff’s Department – something he had promised to do during his campaign. He expressed the the hope that this consolidation will save nearly $200 million in 25 years via officer attrition. According to Undersheriff Michael Bruno key police units including the K-9, bomb and swat teams will be integrated into the sheriff’s department.
Tedesco reiterated he would follow through with another key promise: to transform but not sell the Bergen Regional Medical Center, and to seek a way to provide veteran medical services on the campus. Although facing a budget that is $18 million over the state allowed cap, he said, “I can assure you that my budget will not include any funding cuts to education, essential social programs, or senior services.” As a longer term plan he would like to see light rail transit brought to the county.
The race began with the broadly-held assumption that long-term Republican county politician Kathe Donovan would be re-elected. However she opposed the realignment of the police department, was inclined to sell the medical center, and was spending large sums to litigate matters. She did not endear herself to her constituents when, after having served as NY/NJ Port Authority Board Chair, she ignored the havoc wreaked on her residents by the GW Bridge lane closings. Perhaps one could say she was more of a business person and a numbers person, whereas as Tedesco was more open and a people person. In the end he won by 16,000 votes to become only the second Democratic executive since 1985. As a good Republican and loyal Christie ally, Donovan will likely end up landing a good job.
With Tedesco vacating his freeholder seat, the party has the right to appoint someone to fill the vacancy on an interim basis. At least half a dozen names have been mentioned as possible successors. However, Democrats will remain in control of the Board of Freeholders under the leadership of Joan Voss. She succeeds the long-term Chairman David Ganz who remains on the board.
In these still difficult economic times, with several companies departing Bergen County, with a governor who lacks Tedesco’s progressive ideals, with funding for the new Xanadu still in limbo, and with the possibility of gambling in the Meadowlands, Tedesco will have his hands full. In the meantime, potential gubernatorial candidates Sen. Steve Sweeney, Mayor Steve Fulop, and former ambassador Philip Murphy (all in attendance) are courting him and Lou Stellato for the large number of county voters. Neither has yet signaled whom he will support.
Tedesco in a gracious, people-friendly manner held a celebratory event concluded in less time than an average NBA basketball game – all positive signs for a new (but difficult) day dawning.