NEWARK, NJ — Amid a sea of supporters from Washington, D.C. to Trenton, from Newark City Hall to the outer reaches of West Essex, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo formally announced his re-election campaign in Newark on Monday morning at Essex County Veterans Memorial Park.
DiVincenzo, a Newark native who now lives in Roseland, is seeking his fifth term. He was first elected as county executive in 2002.
"Essex County has never been this strong, not only here, but throughout the state of New Jersey," said DiVincenzo as he stood in front of a human wall of politicians from up and down the state. "Good government is good politics. And that's what I've done my entire career."
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Representatives from national, state, county and local government were on hand to show their support of DiVincenzo.
Among those showing their support for DiVincenzo were: U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, U.S. Reps. Donald Payne and Albio Sires, Senate President Steve Sweeney, State Senators M. Teresa Ruiz, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, State Assembly members Tom Giblin, Eliana Pintor Marin, Blonnie Watson, Cleopatra Tucker and Ralph Caputo, Assemblywoman-elect Shanique Speight, Bloomfield Mayor and Bloomfield Democratic Chair Mike Venezia, West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi, Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca, Livingston Mayor Shawn Klein, Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones Jr., and Freeholder Vice President and Montclair Democratic Chair Brendan Gill and more.
One example of DiVincenzo's demonstration of strength was the presence of the Governor-Elect Phil Murphy, there to extol the virtues DiVincenzo.
"You've given me great advice—In some cases, it's been tough-love advice," said Murphy, who was reminded by DiVincenzo of his "Put Essex First" slogan, as well as of the plurality that the mostly Democratic County of Essex provided Murphy on Election Day. "But at every step, you've been the umpire who called balls and strikes for me. And I will never forget that."
Among the more than 150 people were many other politicians who noted the total municipal unanimity behind DiVincenzo's re-election bid.
"When the county executive gets asked what is his greatest feat, he'll respond that it is making sure that the fiscal crisis that was looming over all of the county's 22 municipalities was fixed," said Ruiz (District 29), whose legislative district includes parts of Newark. "But the greatest asset that he has is ensuring that our children have a place where they can work, live, and play. It may be cold outside, but the heat and passion of putting Essex County first has never been greater than it is now."
Essex County Freeholder Leonard Luciano, who has served as freeholder for the last six-and-a-half years alongside the county executive and his team, was one of several freeholders present who were eager to endorse DiVincenzo for another four-year term.
"He’s done an excellent job," said Luciano, whose district includes Livingston, West Orange, Roseland, Fairfield, Essex Fells, Verona, Cedar Grove, Millburn and the three Caldwells. "Our financial house is completely in order, our bond rating is the highest its every been and our parks, recreation, roads, bridges and infrastructure is right where we want it to be and we’re going to continue to working with him.”
DiVincenzo touted his record during his stump speech. He particularly pointed to what he views as his main achievements, including the county bond rating being upgraded 16 times over the last 15 years to the verge of the highest AAA rating, as well as holding the county's annual property tax increase to only 1.6 percent over the last six years—a number that is below the 2-percent state cap.
DiVincenzo also noted several infrastructure improvements, including the overhaul of the county-run Turtle Back Zoo and the planting of more than 5,000 cherry blossom trees in Branch Brook Park, the signature green public garden of the county system, which hosts the world-renowned Cherry Blossom Festival every spring.
Some political observers wondered that a Democratic county executive primary rival might be growing in Essex County when Jim Johnson, an attorney from Montclair and an under secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton administration, made a strong showing against Murphy in this year's Democratic gubernatorial primary. However, DiVincenzo chopped that concept down.
"Listen, I never worry about anybody else," he said. "You only worry about yourself. I don't think anybody would have the record to do be able to do the things I was able to do and accomplish."
DiVincenzo also said that he is not worried about whether a four-year legal battle with the New Jersey State Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) would damage his re-election chances. He agreed to settle its charges that he misused and obscured campaign funds, consenting to pay a fine of more than $20,000.
"It's been resolved, and it has nothing to do with government," he said. "We could have continued to fight it, but I thought that the best thing for everybody was to end it. People don't care about that. People care about their tax dollars, and what you're doing with them."
Newark native Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (District 34), now on the verge of becoming New Jersey's first African-American lieutenant governor after serving as Murphy's second on their winning ticket, alluded to age as she backed DiVincenzo's drive for another term.
"He started serving people in Essex at The North Ward Center, while I was in the South Ward," said Oliver. "We are the same age (65). I want you to know that you have not missed your stride."
One reason that DiVincenzo wants to preside over the county government of more than 800,000 people hearkens back to another number: eleven—the number of players on his Newark's Barringer High School football team, where he was the quarterback.
"I learned about being a leader," he said. "I grew up with all the other kids in the North Ward of Newark, and I was able to work my way up. That experience taught me how to be a team member, and it absolutely taught me how to take a shot and get back up."
DiVincenzo concluded his speech by stating that Essex, with its 22 towns and 800,000 residents, is the best county in the state because of its diversity. He said that he is just as excited going into this upcoming election as he was in 2002 when he first ran.
"I love going to work every day, I love my job, I love helping people and I love working with each and every one of the elected officials," he said. "Let’s continue to work together, not only to make Newark the best, which it’s going to be, Essex County the best, but also New Jersey the best.”
DiVincenzo thanked the 3500 municipal employees throughout the county that help him do his job every day.
He also noted his commitment to leaving Essex County in better condition than when he arrived, stating that there is still a number of projects underway that have to be seen through.
“Working together, we will build on that progress and continue 'Putting Essex County First,'” he said.
The following representatives announced their support on Monday:
Governor-Elect Phil Murphy, Lt. Governor-Elect Sheila Oliver, Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman, Leroy Jones, U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez, Congressmen Donald Payne and Albio Sires, NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney, NJ State Senators Teresa Ruiz, Nia Gill and Paul Sarlo, NJ Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, State Assembly Representatives Tom Giblin, Eliana Pintor Marin, Shanique Speight, Blonnie Watson, Cleopatra Tucker and Ralph Caputo, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss, East Orange Mayor-Elect Ted Green, Orange Mayor Dwayne Warren, Montclair Mayor Robert Jackson, Bloomfield Mayor and Bloomfield Democratic Chair Mike Venezia, West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi, Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca, Livingston Mayor Shawn Klein, Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, Essex County Surrogate Theodore Stephens, Freeholder President Britnee Timberlake, Freeholder Vice President and Montclair Democratic Chair Brendan Gill, Freeholders Lebby Jones, Rufus Johnson, Wayne Richardson, Len Luciano, Patricia Sebold (who is also the Livingston Democratic Chair) and Cynthia Toro, Freeholders-Elect Bobby Mercado and Carlos Pomares, Fairfield Democratic Chair Philip Alagia, Irvington Democratic Chair Annette Beasley, Essex Fells Democratic Chair Elizabeth Durkin, Glen Ridge Democratic Chair Jackie Yustein, Millburn Democratic Chair Annette Romano, Caldwell Democratic Chair Michael Rubin, West Caldwell Democratic Chair Lou Venezia, North Caldwell Democratic Chair Deoborah Delvecchio, Cedar Grove Democratic Chair Terry Lowe, Verona Democratic Chair Teena Schwartz, West Orange Democratic Chair Sal Anderton, Roseland Democratic Chair Julius Coltre, South Orange Democratic Chair Janine Bauer, Maplewood Democratic Chair Ian Grodman, Orange Democratic Chair Kerry Coley, Belleville Democratic Chair Sal Carnovale, Nutley Democratic Chair Thomas Evans, Newark North Ward Democratic Chair Samuel Gonzalez, Newark East Ward Democratic Chair Angelo DeFederico, Newark South Ward Democratic Chair Patrick Council, Newark Central Ward Democratic Chair Rev Andre Speight, Newark Council members Anibal Ramos, Luis Quintana, Joseph McCallum, Carlos Gonzalez, John Sharpe James, Mildred Crump, Augusto Amador and Eddie Osborne, East Orange Council members Chris James, Amy Lewis, Jackie Johnson, Romal Bullock, Quill Talmadge, Tyshammie Cooper, Casim Gomez, Alicia Holman and Mustafa Brent, Bloomfield Millburn Mayor Cheryl Burnstein, Millburn Council members Samy Levy, Dianne Eglow and Jacqueline Benjamin Lieberberg, Nick Janow, Livingston Mayor Shawn Klein, Livingston Council members Rudy Fernandez and Ed Meinhardt, Verona Councilman Ted Giblin, Nutley Mayor Joseph Scarpelli, Roseland Councilman-Elect Christopher Bardi, IBEW Local 1158 President Joe Calabro, Ray Pocino of NJ Laborers, CWA 1081 President David Weiner and Congressional Candidate Lisa Mandelblatt.