If you’re a fan of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots style election matchups where there’s more punches being thrown than a Manny Pacquiao fight, look no further than the blistering bout that pitted North Bergen Mayor Nick Sacco against upstart challenger Larry Wainstein.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
While there wasn’t an ounce of surprise when Wainstein announced on Valentine’s Day he’d be going toe-to-toe with Sacco in the May 12 election, everyone knew that the successful businessman had a sizable war chest to utilize, making him as close to a viable threat as Sacco would encounter in years.
Wainstein and members of his “Lower Taxes Time for Change” slate predictably made some noise when they submitted their petitions for nomination at Township Hall in March, ensuring that Clerk Erin Barillas and Attorney Tom Kobin would have to grab some Tums with lunch.
As luck would have it, the State Attorney General’s Office made a rare appearance during election season when they raided the North Bergen Parks and Recreation Office, which later led to Walter Somick and Abraham Garcia getting charged for allegedly falsifying timesheets associated with no-show jobs.
While that would be enough of a setback to sink a lot of candidates right off the bat, Sacco had a fundraiser scheduled for the same day and still managed to have a tremendous turnout – though attendees were still hassled at the door by anti-Sacco protesters courtesy of you know who.
Sacco, who hadn’t encountered a real game opponent in decades, began to throw some combinations of his own, accusing Team Wainstein of race-baiting and making false promises to seniors.
Enticed yet? Well, we aren’t even close to the championship rounds yet.
Wainstein continued to swing with reckless abandon as long as his fists could occasionally connect with Sacco’s chin.
He filed a doozy of a complaint with the State Department of Education, claiming that Sacco, also the director of secondary and elementary education in North Bergen, uses his political influence to hand out nearly $1.3 million in board of education salaries.
If you guessed that the Sacco camp dismissed this action as “frivolous” and that the DOE hasn’t done anything with the complaint since then, congratulations, this isn’t your first rodeo in Hudson County.
Another gem came when North Bergen Commissioners Hugo Cabrera and Alan Pascual, as well as running mate Julio Marenco – then the board of education president – made a pit stop in Union City to claim that one of Wainstein’s laundromats has been operating without a certificate of occupancy since 2002.
Wainstein’s campaign manager, Luis Gutierrez, refuted the claims but really little substance emerged from the press conference – outside of an epic argument between Gutierrez and Vision Media President Paul Swibinski -Sacco’s campaign manager.
But wait, there’s more.
In the midst of all this insanity, there was actually a board of education race where three seats were up for grabs. Jose Canonico, a candidate backed by Wainstein, had his arrest record exposed at a press conference in front of North Bergen High School.
Like Gutierrez, Canonico also had his issues with Swibinski and wasn’t shy about putting them out in the open for better or for worse. Food for thought, Canonico later presumably had the Wainstein camp banging their heads against the wall when he said Joe Mocco had been “helpful” to the team.
Mocco, a political figure from many moons ago, is a practically ancient Sacco adversary who served jail time for participating in an illegal waste dumping scheme in the 80’s (per The New York Times).
Just two days later, Wainstein answered back by accusing Sam Jafaar, a BOE candidate endorsed by Sacco, of being racist based on a few compromising Facebook posts from the past year or so.
For the record, Sacco’s BOE team pulled off a convincing clean sweep before complete and utter chaos commenced in May, though a former teacher alleging serious political interference in the schools added even more intrigue to Sacco vs. Wainstein.
First off, Wainstein filed a voter fraud lawsuit against dozens of Sacco allies who live outside of the township – accusing them of still regularly voting for Sacco on Election Day.
While the State Attorney General’s Office urged Superior Court of New Jersey Judge Mary C. Jacobson to dismiss the complaint, she ultimately ruled against injunctive relief – which both sides found to be a good thing.
This when Vision Media dropped their infamous “Shady Bunch” ad, which if you haven’t seem until now: shame on you. Wainstein attorney/supporter Mario Blanch didn’t find it funny though, as he filed a lawsuit in what felt like minutes after seeing the video.
Oh yea, and that laundromat from earlier got issued a violation too if that tickles your fancy.
Further muddying the waters heading into the Election Day, longtime Sacco operative Rick Shaftan got roasted for calling Michelle Obama a “racist pig” the day before the polls opened for business.
In the eleventh hour, Sacco, an elected official since 1985, admitted this was the most vicious election he’s ever been involved in.
Finally, after 12 long, hard-fought rounds, the judges tallied up their scorecards and Sacco was once again touted as the champion of North Bergen (or something like that anyway).
Still, Wainstein garnered an unheard of 5,000 opposition votes, so it came as little surprise that he vowed to be back for a rematch somewhere down the line.
Get your check books out (the two candidates combined for about $1.3 million dollars spent based on the ELEC reports), batten down the hatches and tell your mother you love her if we get Sacco vs. Wainstein II in this lifetime.