Essex County is Buzzing with Politics

Even though it’s just Wednesday, there’s so much percolating In Essex County political news this week that it’s hard to know where to start.

That said, we’ll give top billing to the county executive, who apologized for double dipping — collecting his pension while continuing to work full time and draw a salary. The “I’m sorry” came yesterday, during a ground breaking ceremony for the new 500-seat boathouse restaurant at the South Mountain recreation complex. Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. didn’t offer to give the money back, and according to, he didn’t admit that his behavior was improper. The apology was more about drawing attention away from the work that needs to be done in the county. In addition to other local and state dignitaries, Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno joined DiVincenzo in initiating construction on the new county facility, which will be located adjacent to the Essex County Safari miniature golf course, Turtle Back Zoo and Codey Arena.

Also in the arena of Essex County electoral politics, Montclair’s native son, Brendan Gill received the endorsement of the Democratic Party to run as its candidate for the 5th district freeholder seat, which includes Montcair, Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Nutley and Belleville.

Currently the state director for U. S. Senator Frank Lautenberg and chair of the Montclair Democratic Committee, Gill told Baristanet that he’s excited about the potential opportunity to represent the specific needs of the district. “Montclair hasn’t had representation on the board for more than 10 years,” he said. “The needs of the 5th district are different from other parts of the county. It’s personally important to me that we are part of the decision making process.”

Gill also believes that county level politics offer an opportunity to handle some of the fiscal challenges facing the townships. “Municipal and state budgets are dictating that we’ll have to do more with less. I’m interested in working on the county level to explore regionalizing certain departments so that we can share services.”

When we asked the candidate about his friend and fellow democratic party activist, former Montclair mayor Bob Russo — who had announced his own run for the 5th district Freeholder position — Gill said that “Bob made it very clear that he would support me if I got the endorsement.”

“The genesis of our campaigns would be the same, and we’re both focused on the same thing. We’d just have taken votes away from each other.”

We spoke to Russo by phone today, and he was unaware that any decisions about party endorsement had been made. “It’s all a very secretive process,” he said.

Russo told Baristanet that he wouldn’t run against Brendan Gill or against Ralph Caputo (if he decides to seek reelection for the office), but that he would like to be the Freeholder for the 5th District. “If I don’t get the democrats endorsement, I’ll look to run ‘at large’. I’m keeping my options open.”

Russo sent out a letter soliciting support and campaign contributions today and said that he has hundreds of supporters in Bloomfield, Glen Ridge and Montclair who are asking him to run. “They believe I could make a difference on the county level,” he explained.

“My commitment is idealistic, but I’ve owned 6 homes in Baristaville through the years, and have paid the area’s high property taxes. I don’t need the title or power and I don’t have political ambitions. I’ve just always wanted to serve the people of Essex County.”

Russo said that if elected, he would only accept around half of the freeholder salary, which is almost $32,000, and would decline health benefits.

As we were finishing up our phone conversation, Russo’s wife notified him that there were envelopes of money in today’s mail, in support of his campaign. He added “As Yogi Berra says, ‘It’s not over till it’s over’.”

In a third item of interest — at least to those with a taste for census statistics and such — when the state’s final re-districting map was released earlier this week, it showed that the township of Glen Ridge was “stripped off the 34th district and dumped into the 28th,” according to former Glen Ridge mayor Carl Bergmanson.

Bergmanson posted information about this shift on his web site Glen Ridge.US, and explained the parceling off of the littlest Baristaville town using the analogy of dollars and cents.

“What happens to small towns like Glen Ridge is that they’re sometimes divided up and used as spare change in the bigger picture of redistricting. The larger towns are bills and sometimes you have to make change, so you need to use a smaller municipality for that.”

Bergmanson says that it’s important for people to get the information and judge for themselves what it all means. “It’s important to understand the process.”

You can see a map of the 2011-2020 New Jersey State Legislative Districts, here.

DiVincenzo photo by Glen Frieson

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  1. Hey Joe, how about practice what you preach. Most elected officials are self serving hypocritical two faced liers.

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