While a handful of other districts have been discussed here at Blue Jersey as opportunities for Democratic gain, I’d like to throw the 39th into the mix. The 39th, much like the rest of Bergen County (as well as the state), is trending Democratic. Over the last 10 years, Democrats have reshaped Bergen County, flipping more than 23 towns from red to blue. A decade ago, Republicans dominated 67% of the county. But as of the beginning of this year, Democrats controlled 56% of the county to the GOP’s 43%.
And even though the 39th is still represented in the legislature by fairly radical Republicans, the district has been home to some exciting and substantial accomplishments. Democrats recently ousted Assemblyman John Rooney as Northvale’s Mayor, making the municipality the seventh town in the district to go Democratic. And three of the seven current Bergen County Freeholders are also from the district.
With such a strong trend on our side, Democrats have launched a serious campaign against long time GOP incumbents Gerald Cardinale, John Rooney and Charlotte Vandervalk. Their Democratic challengers, Senate candidate Joseph Ariyan and Assembly candidates Esther Fletcher, a River Edge Councilwoman, and Carl Manna, a Dumont Councilman, formal kicked off their campaigns last Saturday in Dumont, the district’s largest town. An exciting sign of things to come, the event was one of the largest gatherings of Democrats the district has seen in years.
Ariyan is currently the Public Advocate for Land Use in Bergen County. Last year, he helped block a truck stop expansion on Route 17 that would have increased traffic, noise and pollution for many of the towns in the 39th and 40th districts. He is also a partner at the law firm Ariyan, Khoury & Schildiner.
Fletcher has worked in the districts schools for more than a decade first as a Spanish teacher and now as a substitute teacher. She is a councilwoman in River Edge where she has fought to increase safety, as the liaison to the Police Department as well as on the Traffic and Safety Committee. She also successfully secured more than $50,000 through the state’s Smart Growth Grant program to offset the cost of property taxes for residents.
Manna recently retired from the New York Stock Exchange. He has been a resident of Dumont for 30 years and currently serves as councilman for the Borough. While on the council, Manna has spent much of his time focused on easing the burden on Dumont taxpayers by finding ways to share services with neighboring towns.
The 39th district is the next front in the battle for Bergen County. Bergen GOP Chairman Guy Talarico has admitted to party insiders that he’s fearful of a Cardinale loss, pointing to the commitment local Democrats have shown to flipping the district. And Rooney himself has pointed out that many “perceive [him] as a weak candidate.”
Recent victories, the outlandish positions of the incumbents on a variety of social issues and the lack of return the district receives from Trenton for all its tax dollars paid to the state illustrates that the right foundation is in place for Democrats to pick up a seat.
This won’t be an easy race, like most it will be expensive, will rely on word of mouth to increase name recognition and getting out the vote. Much like Tom Kean Jr and Doug Forrester before him, Cardinale has the ability – and as shown in past races, the willingness – to self-fund his own campaign as well as the campaigns of his running mates. But our candidates have already begun raising money. State Senate candidate Joseph Ariyan just last week reported having raised more than $130,000 to date. And we’re aggressively pursuing small dollar donations as well – our kick-off event was a $25/per person fundraiser for the district committee that raised an impressive amount from residents of the district looking for change.
This campaign is going to rely on the type of strong, grassroots effort we’ve seen succeed for Democrats recently in places like Morris Township and Evesham. That means it’s going to rely on you. So if you’d like to be a part of this exciting race, volunteering your time or resources, please send us an e-mail or post a comment below.