Union County political boss won’t consider Black, Hispanic for Surrogate

Union County Commissioner Christopher Hudak is rumored to be the choice of political boss and incoming state Senate President Nicholas “No-Show Nick” Scutari as the replacement for the late five-term Union County Surrogate James S. La Corte, who died on Wednesday, December 22, 2021 at the age 74.

Linden Mayor Derek Armstead recently called on Governor Phil Murphy to designate a minority as the next Surrogate, but Scutari is chairman of the Union County Democratic Committee and he has had an ongoing feud with his hometown rival for many years.

A source close to Scutari said that Hudak would be the name recommended to Murphy, and “there is little or no chance” that the Governor would be willing to cross the party boss who is taking over as Senate President, as a result of a surprise Republican victory over Steve Sweeney.

When Hudak was sworn in as a member of the Union County Freeholder Board, Scutari administered his oath of office, as seen in the photo above.

Last week, Armstead released a statement that said the process for appointing a replacement was “a perfect opportunity to improve upon Union County’s record of diversity, inclusion, and representation.”

Despite more than 25 years of full Democratic Party control, all six of the Union County government’s top officials are White, including County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi, County Manager Edward Oatman, Sheriff Peter Corvelli, Prosecutor William A. Daniel, County Counsel Bruce H. Bergen, and LaCorte.

Almost one year ago, Salaam Ismial, an Elizabeth resident who is director of the National United Youth Council, complained that of the 27 Superior County judges appointed in Union County, only one Black man was selected since 2013.

In addition to the all-white top layer of government, White officials occupy six of the eight secondary-level jobs in county government.

Deputy County Manager Amy Wagner, Public Safety Director Andrew Moran, Administrative Services Director Laura Scutari, Recreation Director Ronald Zuber, Public Works Director Joseph A. Graziano Sr., and Tax Administrator Christopher Duryee are White.

Human Services Director Debbie-Ann Anderson and Finance Director Bibi Taylor are both African-American, but Taylor is not a resident of Union County.

None of the county’s high-ranking government officials are Hispanic.

That lack of diversity in those positions of political power does not reflect the population, which is more than half Black and Hispanic. The 2020 Census found that Union County is 36 percent White, 34 percent Hispanic, and 20 percent Black.

LaCorte was first elected Surrogate of Union County in 1999, serving in the position for four full terms and winning a fifth term in November of 2019.

The Surrogate is responsible for settling the estate of every county resident who dies individually owning any assets in New Jersey–whether or not that resident dies leaving a will. The office also reviews and probates wills and appoints executors, administrators and guardians of minors.

Hudak’s work experience consists mainly of public and non-profit jobs in which he has relied largely on political connections and operated without distinguishing himself.

A graduate of Roselle Catholic High School and Rutgers University, Hudak holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Kean University and completed his Juris Doctorate at Rutgers but all that academic heft has not exhibited itself in his work career.

After four years working in public relations at the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, he moved to a politically-appointed job as manager of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s Rahway agency.

Hudak spent almost a decade peddling insurance and picking up occasional PR gigs until 2013, when he became the assistant director of the Office of Conference & Event Services at Kean University.

His experience scheduling events and making room reservations is hardly analogous to the administration of legal affairs associated with the Surrogate but an aide to Scutari says the Hudak is a ‘loyalist’ and the county political boss has little trust for potential Black or Hispanic appointees.

Scutari has had a long-running feud in Linden with Armstead, who is one of only four Black mayors in Union County’s 21 municipalities, and he has been generally dismissive of minority rights even during the summer following the slaying of George Floyd.

Armstead fired Scutari as Linden’s municipal prosecutor after a review of his attendance records showed he was out 60 times in one year, while he was paid $80,000 from taxpayer money.

Although Governor Phil Murphy technically makes the appointment to replace LaCorte, the millionaire who made his fortune on Wall Street has been thoroughly emasculated by South Jersey political boss George Norcross and Senate President Steve Sweeney, so he is likely to obey Scutari’s command regardless of whether Hudak is qualified for the job.

Murphy has typically followed orders from the corrupt political establishment, endorsing boss-backed contenders even in primary elections and filling patronage jobs with politically-connected individuals who are entirely unqualified.

Hudak resides in Clark with his wife Terri, and their daughter Catherine, and son Jackson. His father is a Superior Court judge and his mother was a member of the Linden Board of Education for 18 years.

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