Unity among Kearny’s Democratic Party lasts about 5 minutes at county committee meeting; Doyle elected chairwoman

As quick as the Kearny Democratic Party appeared to call for unity in the coming year and election — one that will determine who occupies the White House for the next four years thereafter — it all collapsed within moments after the first sign things might actually get better for them all — and it could all turn into a long, long vacancy on the Town Council.

In what can only be described as a disjointed meeting, the Dems’ county committee met Monday, Nov. 27, behind closed doors at the American Legion Post 99 on Belgrove Drive, after the former chairwoman of the party, Susan J. McCurrie, who oversaw the mayoral election in 2023 where the party’s chosen nominee finished third of three candidates, resigned her position.

The Democrats then chose Mayor Carol Jean Doyle to become the party’s new chairwoman, something that was hardly out of the ordinary —the mayor is generally her party’s chair. They also voted to put Doyle back on the county committee, after unceremoniously removing her just a few months earlier, in what was a clear failed election stunt.

But then things got funny again pretty fast — and all signs of potential unity went right out the window.

At that point, the committee nominated three people — Fred Esteves, the brother-in-law of former Mayor Alberto G. Santos; Christopher Kayak, the grandson of the-late former Councilwoman Barbara Cifelli-Sherry and great-nephew of Hudson County Commissioner Albert J. Cifelli; and resident Renato DaSilva, of whom little is known — as the party’s three possible choices to replace Doyle as the Third Ward council representative.

The Observer has learned the vote to choose that slate passed by a slim two-vote majority.

The new mayor had hopes for a completely different slate of candidates. Though the committee was to nominate three people, four names emerged as major contenders — all of whom are well known, heavily involved in civic activity and who have done plenty of things you may even recall.

Those four were Cristina Montague, who in 2019 was the leading citizen in charge of convincing the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority to close the Keegan Landfill (among many other accomplishments); Lewis Battista, a long-time member of the Kearny Recreation Commission; Edmund Shea, a long-time executive board member of the Democratic party and actor/volunteer with the West Hudson Arts & Theater Company; and Larry Handlin, a long-serving member of the county committee and retired building inspector in East Newark.

Of the the three names that were proffered by the committee, one would then be chosen as the potential replacement, which would come up for an up-or-down vote before the entire Town Council. Though there is no apparent front-runner, pure logic would dictate Esteves would be the choice.

However, the chances of Esteves getting the necessary five votes to be placed on the council could be questionable.

Now, here’s where things get interesting.

It is possible the seat, if no one fills it, could remain vacant until January 2025. That’s because an appellate court ruled, in 2021, a partisan municipal council seat could remain vacant for up to 16 month if party leaders can’t agree on a consensus replacement.

That panel’s ruling came after a disputed vacancy in Linden.

And remember, there must be a special election in 2024 to permanently fill the seat, regardless, for the remainder of the term, which ends Dec. 31, 2025. In such a case, there would first be a primary for both Republicans and Democrats — and then a general election in November 2024, where non-affiliated candidates could also run.

So are we about the face a state Constitutional crisis?

Standby to find out.

Scratching her head

Even still, this all perplexes resident and soon-to-be Deputy Mayor Melanie A. Ryan as to how this could all happen, yet again, as it did just a few months ago during the mayoral election.

“I just want to remind everyone that in June, we voiced our opinion on the candidate we wanted to see as mayor and you chose to vote the opposite of what we stated,” Ryan said. “I hope they (the council) consider the end result of that vote before you vote (at the council meeting Dec. 5). Not only has this candidate not belonged to any civic organizations in town or attended the vast majority of fundraisers and events, one of them did not even go to the committee meeting where he was selected despite having been elected to do just that.

“There is not one of the three in the list from the committee who meets the needs of the town and council. We need someone with an understanding of the needs of this town. We need someone who shows up and participates. They don’t have to be well known but they need to be well informed by working in the background of organizations without demanding recognition.”

A classy resignation

In noting she would step down, McCurrie, who spent more than 15 years as a Fourth Ward councilwoman, was gracious and said she was looking to the 2024 race for President of the United States.

“As a party, we have over the last several months experienced a passionate and at times contentious race for the town’s mayoral seat. A three-way race, two candidates from our party and one Republican candidate. During the county committee meetings, our party’s split was evident, with one candidate representing the Democratic line and the other candidate running off-line,” McCurrie wrote in a letter obtained by The Observer, in advance of the meeting.

“We also experienced a strong Republican response. Our party divide continued through to Election Day. The election is over, Mayor Doyle has assumed the seat of mayor and we now need to unify the Kearny Democratic Party not only for the upcoming presidential election where united Democratic support will be crucial, but also with the town council races in a couple of years. We need to maintain the strength and stability of our current Democratic council and their seats.”

McCurrie also offered personal words of her own.

“It has been an honor to serve as your chair and I thank you for your support,” McCurrie said in the letter.

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.