Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise says he can’t envision a scenario where he doesn’t seek re-election next June, sounding off on “tin-horned dictators” Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop and state Senator (D-33)/Union City Mayor Brian Stack in a lengthy interview.
Stack and Fulop choose to inform DeGise that they would not be supporting his re-election during a mid-day meeting at the infamous Coach House diner in North Bergen as the snow just started to fall during a March 7th nor’easter.
According to DeGise, who sat down for a nearly 40-minute interview on our live show on Friday, Stack in particular had been adamant about DeGise running again in 2019 – as recently as two weeks before the Coach House meeting.
When DeGise asked Stack what happened, his only response was “things change,” according to the former Jersey City teacher and council president.
“Not once did I hear them say ‘well, Tom isn’t doing that’ or ‘Tom screwed us on this one’ ‘cuz I’ve spent 15 years here working with mayors and not screwing anybody – including those two: two of the neediest mayors of the 12. Nobody called me more looking for a favor than those two guys,” DeGise exclaimed.
“It is what it is: it’s a power grab on those two parts … everyone since then is asking me like ‘why did they do this?’ and there was no reason given.”
While DeGise clearly expressed disappointment with Stack, he made it very apparent that he has taken Fulop’s role in organizing a brigade of elected officials against him quite personally.
“With a guy like Steven … two years ago he was running for governor. We were all behind him: he had the support of me and all of the other mayors there, all the other electeds. I went to a lot of his affairs, he had considerable support: Passaic, Bergen and all that – and he dropped out. Nobody really knows why he did,” DeGise stated.
“Last year, it was the Senate seat where he started his maneuvering in case things didn’t go well for [U.S. Senator Bob] Menendez: ya know, Steven was there to save us with that and he started making his move in that direction. That didn’t work out too well.”
At this point DeGise was just getting warmed up, joking that “now he wants to be king of Hudson County, I heard next year he’s thinking about Pope.”
Although Fulop was expected to compete in the Democratic primary for governor last year, that never came to fruition and he announced he would be endorsing Phil Murphy and instead seek re-election during a press conference in front of the steps of Jersey City City Hall in September 2016.
As far as the U.S. Senate goes, Fulop never publicly stated he had designs on succeeding Menendez in the event he had to step down as the result of a federal corruption trial, but political opponents did and Menendez has covertly taken aim at the mayor since putting his legal issues behind him.
Later in the interview, when asked if he had any doubt that Menendez would be endorsing his candidacy, DeGise quickly responded “no,” calling the senior Senator a good friend over the years.
He further stated that he found it off putting Fulop was putting so much time into county politics, for a race that’s over a year away, when many Jersey City residents are struggling with a reval.
Again, DeGise just couldn’t help himself when he took aim at Fulop over his perceived political ambitions.
“Being mayor of Jersey City was always my dream job, it’s what I wanted to do, what I was aiming to do. If I had become mayor, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere. He’s using the mayor’s job just as a stepping stone today.”
Fulop, who was on the March 9th edition of our live show, claimed that DeGise “no longer had that fire in the belly,” further stating that the county executive had previously said behind the scenes that he would not run again in 2019.
When confronted on that subject, DeGise didn’t mince words: ‘that’s a lie, but I’ll tell you the whole truth on it, on that end, if you give me a minute.”
“About two or three years ago, people started asking me: was I running for another term? And I said ‘it’s way too soon’ for me to decide that. I’ve got a lot of work to do here, I’m gonna wait a little bit so I didn’t given them a definitive yes,” explained the head of county government.
“When that happened, the mayors, in mass, came to me and asked me to run. I said ‘I’ll tell you what: I’ll get a whole battery of physical tests with my doctor, make sure that my health is good and I can go through a campaign and serve another four years.”
After multiple physician’s had given him the green light, DeGise continued that he told “anyone he would listen” for the past year that he’s running and was steadfast that he never said otherwise.
Furthermore, DeGise admitted that he doesn’t know who the candidate will be (Fulop told us the same, emphasizing he would not be the one seeking the county executive seat), he said whoever it is will be a “straw dog” for the Jersey City mayor.
“I don’t plan on campaigning against that person, I plan on campaigning against Steven. You know, I’m a Jersey City guy. I think you can verify of me that I have a reputation of being a pretty good guy. I get along with everybody, I find ways of getting things done without pissing ’em off,” he exclaimed.
” … But I am a Jersey City guy and I am a city guy, and when challenged, I will answer that challenge. He’s about to see the city boy in Tom DeGise now and not the one that has tried to help him every step in his career. There’s far more shame in turning down an invitation to fight than there is fighting and losing.”
A 67-year-old lifelong resident of Jersey City, DeGise went after Fulop every chance he got, though he also put Stack in his crosshairs over slamming DeGise’s leadership, also claiming his administration lacked diversity.
“It was totally disingenuous. I think it was Brian trying to figure out something to say as to why he stabbed me in the back … diversity plays real well in Union City … you don’t have to prove it, all you have to do is say it. But there is absolutely no truth in it and the accusation is laughable.”
DeGise also repeated over and over again that he felt the move to replace him was “a power grab,” and a step to take state Senator (D-33)/North Bergen Mayor Nick Sacco out of the conversation as a political power broker in Hudson County.
As tensions continue to rise at a torrid pace, DeGise said he currently can’t envision his faction, led by Sacco and U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8), running anyone against Stack for HCDO chairman since they had not envisioned a civil war unfolding overnight.
Furthermore, Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla and West New York Mayor Felix Roque, the latter of which who appears to have rubbed some of his local elected the wrong way, were quick to join the Fulop and Stack’s team to replace him.
This fact was not lost on DeGise, who called out both elected leaders for not making their intentions known before going public.
“I resent it, from both of those guys, Roque and Bhalla, that they didn’t have the courtesy to give me a call. That they never even did it. And I tried to call them, they never returned a call, so I ain’t calling no more,” DeGise stated.
“I think the obvious cheap shot that you can throw out there is that Ravi got elected with 32 percent of the vote, I’ll take the other 68 [percent] how ’bout that?”
Fulop and Bhalla’s offices did not return inquiries seeking comment.