Bergen GOP Power List: The Top 10

By The Staff

It’s no secret, Save Jerseyans: the Bergen County Republican Party has fallen on hard times, and recent trends — both nationally, statewide, and locally — suggest things could still get more challenging before they get better.

But with a new chairman likely taking the reins later this year, there’s also a new opportunity for Republicans in New Jersey’s most populous county to hit the “reset” button and begin a rebuilding process long-forestalled by party infighting and unfavorable cycles.

Our staff conducted an informal poll of involved Bergen Republicans in search of the most influential/powerful/consequential names, at this point in time, who will help direct the fate of the county party.

Here they are:

Carlos Rendo (center) speaks at Jack Zisa’s chairman launch event.

#1 – Senator Gerry Cardinale (R-39)

In a fractured organization, the stalwart conservative lion of the Senate is king. He may not wield quite the power he used to over the county organization, but as the only Republican Senator actually living in the state’s largest county, his power to affect what goes on at the BCRO is virtually limitless. While his previous feuds with Paul DiGaetano would have knocked him lower on this list had we put one out last year, his quick embrace of presumptive favorite Jack Zisa to be the next Chairman keeps Cardinale atop his perch.

#2 – Former Hackensack Mayor Jack Zisa

There is nothing that BCRO needs more desperately than unity. The two most likely opponents to former Hackensack Mayor Jack Zisa for the BCRO chairmanship — Kelly Langschultz and Carlos Rendo — are now full-throated endorsers of his candidacy to succeed Paul DiGaetano. Uniting a notoriously fractured organization is a herculean task; in the early-going, Zisa is scoring good reviews.

#3 – CD5 Candidate John McCann

No one has more potential to move up or down this list than John McCann. The well-networked local attorney has the line in Bergen and Passaic County. Defeating freshman Representative Josh Gottheimer won’t be easy (assuming McCann can leverage his lines to get past Lonegan this June). If McCann can best Lonegan? And somehow defeat Gottheimer? He’ll be the new “it” guy in Bergen County Republican politics in a way that the likes of Kathe Donovan and Scott Garrett never were. 

#4 – New Milford Councilwoman Kelly Langschultz

One of the harsh realities of politics is the need for money. Lots of it. No one in Bergen County (or any other competitive county) came close to matching the fundraising abilities of Langschultz in her bid for State Senate. Not on the GOP side of the legislative ledger. When the final tallies came in, she went toe-to-toe with Bob Gordon. As another early supporter of Zisa, she stands to only continue to improve her position as the rising star of the party.

#5 – Businessman Chuck Shotmeyer

The only name on the Top 10 who might not be familiar to all readers, Shotmeyer is the BCRO Finance Chairman and one of the most prolific fundraisers in the state. He has extensive Republican ties dating back decades, and any candidate who is going to be successful will need help from Shotmeyer. His connections extend all over the state and he remains one of the ultimate seasoned backroom players. He was even courted to take a run at NJ-05 given his ability to self-fund but he decided to stay put.

#6 – District 36 Chairman Joe Crifasi

District 36 is a marvel of Democratic gerrymandering. It encompasses a large number of small southern Bergen swing boroughs which get swamped out by Cliffside Park and Passaic come Election Day. But, locally, the district has strong pockets of Republican strength. Of the towns with partisan elections, the large majority have a Republican mayor or Republican council control. Combine this with a fairly cohesive County Committee block and Crifasi wields incredible influence over the state of county Republican politics.

#7 – Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo

A name familiar to all readers, Mayor Rendo gained enormous popularity throughout the state running as Kim Guadagno’s 2017 lieutenant governor candidate. He’s gained quite a following in Bergen since last year’s race. If Cardinale does not run for re-election in 2021, expect Rendo’s name to pop up for one of the LD39 seats.

#8 – Assemblyman Bob Auth, #9 Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, #10 Assemblyman Kevin Rooney

As Republican legislators, the three are tireless fighters for taxpayers. While their influence in the party is not what it might be in other counties given the Bergen Democrats’ hegemonic control of county government, they still retain significant sway in how the party functions, and their endorsements remain coveted prizes in almost any internal GOP contest. Look for all three to shoot up this list in the coming years if Republicans are successful in the Murphy midterm.