You may have recently passed Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra and Vince Lombardi on the street, but you might not have recognized them. That’s because Hudson County has an abundance of residents who share the names, if not the fame, of celebrities.
In Jersey City and Hoboken alone, a Michael Jackson, a Jesse Jackson, two Vince Lombardis and a Frank Sinatra reside or work in relative obscurity. Union City can boast residents named Rosie Perez, Jenny Lopez and William Smith. And Monica Lewinski, not the famous ex-intern who spelled her last name with a “y” but a less-audacious older version, used to live in Jersey City. (Neighbors say she recently moved.)
In addition, there are no less than six James Browns listed in the Jersey City/Hoboken phone book.
For some, the names have brought benefits. Hobokenite Vince Lombardi actually once received football tickets that were meant for the famous Green Bay Packers coach.
For others, the names can sometimes be a bit of an annoyance.
With so many people living in reflected glory, the Reporter set out to document their dreams of attaining the greatness of their namesakes, their tales of mistaken identity, and their efforts to shield themselves from the unending questions about the stars who share their names.
W ith a name like Vince Lombardi, you almost have to be a big football fan. And the 65-year-old Hoboken resident, who looks more like Al Pacino than the storybook NFL coach whose name he shares, certainly fits the bill.
“I’ve got Packer cups, a Packer jacket, Packer everything,” said Lombardi last week of the team that Coach Lombardi led to five NFL championships in nine seasons in the 1950s and 1960s. “They are the greatest team to ever take the field.”
But their penchant for cheering on the Packers is where the similarities between the two men seems to end. Lombardi of Hoboken, for example, is no great coach.
“I coached in the Mighty Mite League for a season,” he said, referring to a local football league for kids. “It was very hard for other teams to score on us. But it was also very hard for us to score. We were 1-5.”
Despite their differences, the former police sergeant said he has been mistaken for the famous coach.
“Once when the Packers were playing the Giants, the post office sent me his tickets by mistake,” said Lombardi. “I was a Giants season ticket holder and what happened was he must have been sending tickets to his family or something in New Jersey. Anyway, when the tickets went to the post office they got re-adjusted and sent to me. When I got home, my wife said, ‘Oh, your tickets are here.’ But when I opened up the envelope there were 40 tickets there for seats on the 35 yard line, rather than my one.”
The sergeant sent the tickets back to the coach. And soon afterward, a note arrived in the mail thanking him for returning the tickets, along with an autographed football.
“I liked that ball,” said Lombardi, “but soon the kids got a hold of it. And now all I have left is a dead pigskin. You can’t even make out the names anymore.”
Believe it or not, Lombardi is not the only Vince Lombardi in town. His son, Vincent Thomas Lombardi, even has the same middle name as the famous coach. But the younger Lombardi goes by Vinny, lessening the confusion.
“We always get asked is he is an uncle or a cousin or something,” said the elder Lombardi. “But there is no relation.”
T hen there’s the case of Jesse Jackson. The 38-year-old Jersey City native, civic leader and rumored City Council candidate frequented area bars in the ’80s with his friend, the improbably named Michael Jackson. They could have been one of the all-time great pick-up duos. But the reality was that, well, most women didn’t take them seriously.
“Two guys trying to pick you up,” explained Jesse Jackson from his Bergen Avenue home. “One guy is Jesse Jackson. The other is Michael Jackson. Come on.”
So he resorted to deception.
“I would tell people my name was ‘Marquis’ [pronounced mar-KEESE]. Keece for short.”
Michael, 38, an ordained minister who lives on Grant Avenue in Jersey City, confirmed the story.
“When we’d tell girls our names,” said Michael, “They used to crack up, like, ‘you guys are nuts.'” Michael did more than just give the women his name. He attempted to impress by singing and dancing.
Yet there are perks. When the Rev. Jesse Jackson started his campaign for President in 1984, the Jersey City Jackson was a student at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
“I wanted to make dinner reservations for four,” he said. “I just wanted a regular table, regular room. But they gave the red carpet treatment, the royalty treatment.”
Then he’d show up.
“Who the hell are you?” the restaurant would ask.
“I’m Jesse Jackson,” he’d reply.
“No, you’re not.”
“And I’d pull out my license,” he said. “I’d say, ‘This is me.'”
After some wrangling, the restaurant would usually seat him.
Jackson, named for a family member, met the famed Jesse Jackson at St. Peter’s College in 1983.
“I said, ‘Mr. Jackson, this is your namesake.'”
Replied the candidate, “I hope you go on to do good things, because you have a name to live up to.”
W hen he introduces himself, the former Jersey City superintendent of schools matter-of-factly states, “Hi, I’m Frank Sinatra. I don’t sing.” Sinatra, who is now an assistant to the state commissioner of education and who works out of a Jersey City office, once abandoned a nascent singing career in the fifth grade during the rise of the blue-eyed Hoboken-based singing star with the same name.
Sinatra, 70, a Perth Amboy native, is hard-pressed to explain why he stopped.
“He was a singer… I guess there was something psychological. I packed it up, and said, ‘That’s it.'” There has been good and bad with the name.
“It gives me an incentive not to foul up,” he said. “Because if I foul up, they’ll remember it.”
The former superintendent owns “a great deal” of Sinatra records and pictures. When he retired as Perth Amboy Superintendent of Schools, he entitled his final report, “My Way.”
The Sinatras actually met in 1944, when the Rat Packer campaigned for Franklin D. Roosevelt. The teenage Perth Amboy student has only a vague recollection of the summit.
“I remember that it was a very exciting time,” he said. “The girls thought I was a great guy.”
But no shower singing? No whistling down the street?
“My wife says the only one I sing to is her.”