There is a crowded ballot in the staunchly Democratic 32nd District, covering parts of Hudson and Bergen counties, with three candidates seeking a Senate seat and five vying for two spots in the Assembly.
Sen. Nicholas Sacco tops the Democrats’ ballot. His name being on the ballot is old news in the 32nd, where he's been serving as senator since 1993. But this race is interesting because running against Sacco’s ticket, though not for Senate, is a woman who last year settled a sexual harassment lawsuit against him.
Sacco has been the mayor of North Bergen even longer – since 1991. A former school teacher turned assistant superintendent of schools in the North Bergen school district, Sacco is by any definition a career politician with name recognition and a long legislative career.
In his nearly 19-years in the Legislature, Sacco has worked bills ranging from the creation of a DNA database to make policing more efficient across New Jersey to the expansion of the Urban Enterprise Zone program into new areas to promote jobs and revitalization in cities that might otherwise not see as much private investment.
More recently, Sacco has sponsored “Caylee's Law,” which would make it illegal for parents to fail to report a child missing for more than 24 hours. The bill is named for Caylee Anthony, the Florida toddler whose disappearance and death went unreported for a month.
Sacco points to his record as mayor in keeping taxes stabilized while maintaining what he describes as high property value in the city.
The independent opposing Sacco is Herbert Shaw, whose slogan is “Politicians Are Crooks.”
Shaw, known to some around the 32nd District for running in practically every election over the past decade, once explained his reason for running -- and losing -- so many elections was just so he could tell people, “politicians are crooks.” It's also the kind of catchy saying that might resonate in a district with a history of corrupt politicians.
Though Shaw is running for state Senate this time around, his candidacies for office have included running for the Assembly in 2009 and for Congress in 2002, 2004, and 2006. Shaw also ran for a board of education position in his hometown of North Bergen. A Korean War veteran, Shaw has worked as an electrician and an engineer throughout the area, and most recently was employed as a maintenance repairman for the Newark Public Library before retiring.
The Republican candidate is Edward O'Neill. He has also sought elected office before, losing races for the Assembly in both 2005 and 2007. O'Neill serves as an administrator for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in North Bergen. Despite repeated attempts, O'Neill did not return calls to comment on his campaign.
In the Assembly race, Deputy Majority Whip Vincent Prieto is the sole incumbent since Joan Quigley has lost her seat in redistricting.
Prieto was sworn into office in 2004 to finish the term of Anthony Impreveduto after the former Assemblyman resigned after pleading guilty to misusing campaign finances for personal expenses. Prieto won his re-election following year.
A construction code official, Prieto serves as chair of the Regulated Professions committee and is a member of both the Homeland Security and State Preparedness and the Transportation, Public Works, and Independent Authorities committees. He served on the Secaucus Planning Board from 1998 until 2001.
Recent legislation sponsored by Prieto expanded on Sacco's DNA database, requiring even those only arrested on suspicion of a violent crime to submit a sample. Other legislation he sponsored worked towards helping small businesses receive funding for court reporting services.
Filling out the Democratic Assembly ticket is Angelica Jimenez. While her political background is limited, she has been involved in politics for a long time. “I've been involved with politics even before I could vote,” said Jimenez, a mother of two.
Jimenez said her political participation is motivated in part by her background as a Cuban-American. Growing up, she said she would hear her immigrant parents' stories of the political difficulties in their home country. Jimenez's political participation became more official when she was chosen to serve on the school board in her hometown of West New York, eventually becoming its vice president. She has also served as vice chair of its housing authority.
But it is Jimenez's professional experience in the medical field, where she works as an MRI and mammography technician, that she said gives her insight into serving on the Assembly.
“Insurance companies are not reimbursing facilities and some hospitals are in the red,” the Democratic candidate said. This firsthand experience, she maintains, will be beneficial in sorting out the complexity of the medical industry's insurance policies. "I'm not happy with what Gov. Christie has done for healthcare.”
Jimenez would also like to improve education in the district. “Being on the board of education, our big issues were never having enough funds, even though West New York is an Abbott school district,” she said. “There have been tons of layoffs in West New York.”
Being on Sacco's ticket has been exciting, she said. “He has always represented his area and taken care” of the residents well, she said. She said voters keep electing him because of his track record. “They know he will do everything he can to resolve what he can and bring in as much money as he can for the towns he represents. That's why I'm so proud to be on his team.”
Running as an independent in this race is April Tricoli-Busset.
She may have agreed to a $90,000 settlement with North Bergen that stipulated she would not seek re-employment with the municipality after she was allegedly the victim of verbal sexual harassment, but that does not mean she can not seek employment as one of the state representatives of the town's district.
Tricoli-Busset had first started working for North Bergen in 1999 as a clerk and typist. In a lawsuit filed in June 2008, she claimed Sacco at one point asked her, “Don't you think we should have a big boobs page on the website?” She also contended a township commissioner reprimanded her for the way she dressed.
Tricoli-Busset and the township reached a settlement in June 2010 in which she received $90,000 and agreed not to contest the elimination of her position, according to published reports.
Currently a web designer and homemaker, Tricoli-Busset is one of the North Bergen candidates running under the Citizens For Change ticket that has been looking to unseat what they see as the politically entrenched establishment in the area. The party charges that the mainstay politicians are failing to meet the area's needs at the expense of patronage.
Tricoli-Busset said her firsthand experience in the administration is the best fix for the system. “I have seen the way North Bergen government operates under the Sacco administration and I know the waste that exists in Town Hall,” she wrote on the group’s website.
There are two North Bergen Republicans, Michael Bartulovich and Ronald Tarolla, also seeking Assembly seats. Neither could be reached for comment.