Why the Bergen County executive had to back down on closing businesses

It’s been an emotional rollercoaster of a week for Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco, the top elected official in New Jersey’s most populous county. He calls Bergen County the epicenter of New Jersey’s coronarvirus outbreak with the most confirmed infections of all 21 counties.

“We must remember that the severity of the situation in Bergen County, sadly, is much greater than any other in the state,” he said.

Tedesco insists that’s what motivated him to use his executive powers to order the shuttering of shopping malls and thousands of businesses, telling a million residents — except essential workers — that it’s only OK to go out to the grocery store, pharmacy, for emergencies, and in small numbers to the park before 8 p.m.

“I don’t want to be reading names off of paper that are no longer with us,” he said at a press conference on Monday.

He patted himself on the back for issuing orders before and beyond the governor’s.

“And the majority of our actions here have been followed by others throughout the state and the governor,” he continued on Monday.

If he didn’t know it already, Tedesco certainly learned that the state constitution affords the governor extraordinary powers to overrule local government. Tedesco consulted with the Murphy administration a few times during the week about the start time and extent of his county clamp down and how it exceeded the state’s actions.

“This is about preventing spread,” said Tedesco.

But then on Thursday he had to rescind his order.

“The Murphy administration has stated that the only closures that could be enforced were those issued by the governor,” Tedesco said.

On Friday he added, “So there is no executive order that will take effect tomorrow. It’s only what the governor has declared that needs to be closed.”

But does Tedesco lose any credibility? “I do not think that at all,” he said.

Tedesco still says as county executive he has the “moral authority” to act like a father watching out for his family — even in the face of threatened lawsuits.

“Some counties have not yet to identify a single presumptive positive case of COVID-19. The actions deemed overreactive in one county may not seem as not only necessary but critical in another. Howard Ruff once said, and I quote, ‘It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark. Some may have thought Noah was overreacting. But when the flood came, he was prepared.’ I understand and accept that there has been some confusion. We are all in unchartered territory. However, we are prepared and ready to take all necessary steps to protect our residents,” he said.

The governor – New Jersey’s top elected official – says, so I am.