10 Must-Watch Bergen Races on Tuesday night

By Matthew Gilson | The Save Jersey Blog


#1 – Freeholder Race

The main attraction county-wide is yet another annual Freeholder Board control battle. The race for two three-year terms is growing increasingly competitive with former Freeholder John Mitchell looking to return to the post he held for three years and Ramsey Councilman Ken Tyburczy mounting a strong showing. For the Democrats, Steve Tanelli is the stronger of the two incumbents and will be challenge to beat, but look for Republicans to pick off at least one of the two with Tracy Zur being exceptionally vulnerable. For the one-year term, union strongman Tom Sullivan takes on Daisy Ortiz-Berger. Ortiz-Berger would bring desperately needed diversity as the five old white Democrats currently on the board do little to address the needs of the county.

#2 – District 38

What can be said that has not been said? All that aside, District 38 remains our strongest opportunity to pick up a seat north of the Atlantic City Expressway. It is unknown what kind of impact Anthony Cappola remaining on the ballot will have in the race to replace Assemblymen Timothy Eustace and Joe Lagana, but a strong showing even in a loss could set Mark DiPisa up nicely for a rematch in 2017. Which brings us to our next race…

#3 – Fair Lawn

Mayor John Cosgrove and his team can take complete control of local government with a sweep on Tuesday. Cosgrove himself is a heavy favorite to win re-election, and his team of John Gil and Marc Zharnest has made an aggressive push to incumbents Kurt Peluso and Lisa Swain. The signs say “The Cosgrove Team” for a reason; he is incredibly popular and has a tremendous record as the mayor and decades of community service. Looking ahead to 2017, Cosgrove, the favorite to take on Senator Bob Gordon, would be hard-pressed to pass on a run with a strong victory tomorrow.

#4 – Woodcliff Lake

One of the most heated mayoral races in the county, Councilman Carlos Rendo takes on Menendez booster and Republican-turned-Democrat Jeff Bader. If Rendo can take his running mates with him, Woodcliff Lake will turn to an all Republican government. The race may have larger implications, too, because if Senator Gerald Cardinale does not seek re-election in 2017, Rendo is mentioned as a likely candidate for whatever seat becomes open.

#5 – Oradell

Oradell is the most reliably Republican town in District 38, which is exactly why it checks onto our list. If Oradell slips into the Democratic column it means Cappola’s presence on the ballot resulted in an implosion for the party and signals huge trouble district-wide and for the freeholder slate, too. Mayor Joe Murray takes on former Mayor Dianne DiDio for the top spot in a run that is becoming increasingly competitive after being a dud for most for the cycle. On the council side, Donna Alonso and John Samuel are seeking re-election and are challenging Democrat Tracy Schoenberg and “Independent” Robert Tashjian. Why “Independent”? Tashjian was a Republican who failed to switch his party before the deadline meaning he did not qualify for the Democratic ballot. What? You thought this kind of incompetence only occurred on our side of the aisle?

#6 – North Arlington

As one might expect, Save Jersey has covered this race closer than any other. Republicans already have control in North Arlington and cannot lose it tomorrow, but the interesting dynamic is just how it affects the county-wide race. Republicans will win locally, that is not really in question. However, even a vote win similar to last year (500-600 votes) will still likely produce an equal or larger victory for Steve Tanelli in the town. Desperate to tie their sinking ship to Tanelli, Democrats went as far as superimposing a picture of Tanelli to their candidates in their mailer. In 2012, Tanelli ran 1,000 votes ahead of disgraced Councilman Al Granell. It would be a tremendous victory for Republicans county-wide to cut that total in half.

#7 – New Milford

Another barometer is how things are shaking up in 38 and countywide, New Milford is a perennial swing town with a split council. Though control is not at stake even with two Democratic seats up, neither incumbent sought re-election so Republicans have a chance to jump out to a 5-1 advantage. Matt Seymour and Mel Urena have run a strong and hard fought campaign. A win here would be a sign that the bottom did not completely fall out of the bigger picture.

#8 – Bergenfield

Through no fault of his own, Norman Schmelz is arguably the most endangered Republican incumbent mayor due to the overwhelmingly Democratic nature of his town. After winning a special election in 2013, he faces the voters again who elected him despite the fact the town council remains 6-0 Democrat. Democrats have run an extremely nasty campaign complete with a full-blown attack website. They have sought to distort some innocuous statements by Schmelz, as well as attempting to tie him to not only Anthony Cappola, but Chris Christie and American patriot Scott Garrett. It will be interesting to see whether Schmelz’s successful tenure or the overwhelmingly partisan tilt of the town wins the day.

#9 – Elmwood Park

Dick Mola is the only mayor most “Elmwood Park” residents have ever known. Mayor for over 40 years, when he took office the town was still referred to as “East Paterson” preceding the similar move made by West Paterson decades later. This year, Mola faces his toughest challenge yet facing not only a Democratic councilman, but a strong independent team lead by former Republican Councilman Rich Trawinski. Trawinski, the brother of Bergen politico and LD38 convention contender Ed Trawinski, demonstrates a strong dissatisfaction with the direction of the local party under Mola and the town. Control of the council is also at-stake in what should be a nail biter.

#10 – Wyckoff

As previously covered right here, the local Wyckof election has turned into a proxy war control of the BCRO. The race between Republican Susan Yudin, who’s the wife of county GOP chairman Bob Yudin, and independent Tom Madigan is too close to call, but this may actually be a good thing for Republicans. Increased turnout this heavily Republican turnout will benefit the countywide ticket as Madigan is drawing most of his support from disgruntled Republicans. It would be wrong to put too much emphasis on the result here carrying over to next June, but it will certainly be something on the mind of county committee members when they cast their votes.


Stay with Save Jersey for results and a complete analysis of these and other races happening tomorrow.


Matthew Gilson
About Matthew Gilson 100 Articles
A young man with a strong passions for all things local politics and all things North Jersey, Matt Gilson is a life-long resident of Bergen County, a student at Rutgers-Newark Law, the former chairman of the Seton Hall College Republicans, a former candidate for the Rutherford school board, and the current chairman of Bergen Young Republicans.


  1. Predictions. Dem freeholders win by average of 6. They win 38 by 12-15 points. 36 is closer than people expect and GOP does well in local races in S Bergen.

    Fair Lawn goes 5-0 Republican amazing considering it was 5-0 Democratic in 2005. Sounds like maybe the Fair Lawn and North Arlington GOP should get to run the county party going forward considering their wins against ancestral and registration disadvantages. Woodcliff Lake goes GOP easily. I think we win New Milford.

  2. Dems win and Stellato stuffs the Administration Building with more of his operatives making high salaries with no experience. This is what I fear but can be the reality. Republicans didn’t address this patronage over the course of the campaign.

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