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  Doria faces stiff challenge in Hudson Dem primary

Doria faces stiff challenge in Hudson Dem primary



May 5 - The race for State Senate between Jersey City Mayor Glenn D. Cunningham and Jersey City Council President L. Harvey Smith has been the marquee race this spring in the 31st legislative district.

But the district's Democratic primary features an equally intense undercard, with one of the state's most prominent legislators facing an aggressive challenge that may ultimately threaten his political future in his home city.  

The Assembly race pits incumbent Assemblyman Joseph V. Doria (D-Bayonne), whose 23-year tenure in the Legislature has included stints as Speaker and Assembly Minority and who doubles as the Mayor of Bayonne, and freshman Assemblywoman Elba Perez-Cinciarelli against challengers Bayonne Councilman Anthony Chiappone, a Bayonne councilman, and Louis Manzo, a former Hudson County freeholder and three-time Jersey City mayoral candidate.

Doria and Perez-Cinciarelli are running on the powerful Hudson County Democratic Organization's line in the June 3 primary.  Cunningham has been at war with the HCDO since last year and recruited Chiappone and Manzo to run with him in part to add credibility to his off-the-line slate, dubbed "Democrats for Hudson County.

Cunningham's slate also includes Melba Walsh, a Bayonne resident who will head the ticket as a candidate for County Executive. She survived an HCDO attempt last week to knock her off the ballot.

Just as the Senate contest is seen as a battle between Cunningham and the county's Democratic establishment, the Assembly race is viewed by many as a possible referendum on Bayonne's future political leadership.

The 31st District includes the entire city of 62,000, even though Bayonne's voters are outnumbered by about two-to-one by Jersey City's. 

Once allies, Doria and Chiappone are now rivals, with Chiappone viewed as a potential challenger to Doria in
the 2006 mayoral election.

Doria was re-elected last year with 60% of the vote. Chiappone won an At-Large Council seat in that same election over a slate backed by Doria.

Chiappone said he parted ways with the mayor because he believed Doria was not adequately sharing power and responsibility with some members of the council, and indicated his success running off of Doria's ticket last year makes him believe voters are growing weary of the incumbent.

"A lot of people see this race as an indicator of [Doria's] strength in the next race for mayor," he said.

Chiappone said he doesn't know if will challenge Doria then, but said that he'd be encouraged if he wins 40 percent of the vote in Bayonne.

Doria said he doesn't think the Assembly race will have any bearing on the next mayoral election.

"That's three years away," he said.  "That's a long time."

Doria said he's focusing his campaign on the clout he has in Trenton, the money he's been able to deliver to the district, and his ability to work as a "team-player."  He blasted Chiappone' suggestion that voters might view this race as a preview of a future one.

"I would say that the fact he's running for the Assembly so he can run for mayor in 2006 is definitely a reason to vote against him," Doria said.

But Chiappone insisted his own political future isn't the main reason he's running, and said he feels the district's voters want "someone fresh" in Trenton.

Despite Doria's long service in the capital, both Chiappone and Manzo say they feel his most effective days are behind him.

Just days after the 2001 election, newly-elected Gov. James E. McGreevey led a successful effort to stop Doria from becoming the new Assembly Speaker.  McGreevey backed Albio Sires, a freshman legislator also from Hudson County.

The move, Chiappone and Manzo said, is indicative of Doria's lack of clout.

"He's been there for 20 years and he hasn't gotten it done, so why should we believe anything is going to change in the next two years?" Manzo asked.

Manzo pointed to the cuts in the governor's proposed budget, including an 80 percent reduction in Jersey City's aide, along with cuts in social service programs he said many families in the 31st district rely on.

"No district in the state has lost as much money as this one," Manzo stated.

But Doria rejected his foes' criticism, stressing that he agrees the cuts proposed in the budget are too severe.  He said he's leading the fight to restore some of Jersey City's aide, and is confident he will be able to do so.

Noting that the state aide in question comes to Jersey City through the Distressed Cities program, Doria noted that he played a pivotal role in the city earning that designation.

He also cited a litany of bills he's successfully shepherded through the Legislature during his years in the lower chamber, including a requirement that hospitals allow women who have just given birth to stay for at least 48 hours. 

Doria admitted the struggle between him and Sires two years ago was "tough," but pointed out that he ultimately nominated Sires for the leadership position.

"I have a very good relationship with Albio, as we both do with the governor," he said.

The Assembly race has been overshadowed by the district's Senate race, with Cunningham earning high marks in public opinion polls.

Doria said he's not concerned that a strong Cunningham showing effect will have a trickle-down effect on the Assembly race.

"The voters of Hudson County are intelligent enough to vote for the best candidate for each office," he said.

Steve Kornacki can be reached at



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