A bright future Menendez victory spells prosperity of Hudson County

Sen. Robert Menendez again made history when he became the first Hispanic in New Jersey elected to the U.S. Senate.

But his victory against Republican challenger state Senator Tom Kean Jr. may be a bright sign for Hudson County.

Menendez, who holds the distinction as the first Hispanic assemblyman and state Senator, and Hispanic from New Jersey elected to the House of Representatives, moves into the U.S. Senate at a time when the Democratic Party comes back into power, providing Hudson County with significant political clout as well as a boon in federal aid.

“Look at all the federal dollars Menendez brought into Hudson County as a minority Congressman,” said Jim Kennelly, spokesperson for the Hudson County Executive’s office. “That about how much more he can bring in as a U.S. Senator with the Democrats in the majority.”

State Senator Bernard Kenny, who serves as chairman of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, said the victory had huge implications for future Hudson County political aspirants.

“If Bob didn’t win, we would not have seen a Hudson County candidate win a statewide election in my life time or the life time of our children,” Kenny said. “Bob broke the ceiling, not only in this, but also as a Hispanic candidate. Years from now, someone raised in this county can run for governor, U.S. Senate or even the Presidency, because of what Bob did Tuesday.”

On a national level, Kenny predicted Menendez would become a national figure for the Democratic Party within a year.

“He will become the spokesman for the fastest growing population in the county and he will be called on to help with campaigns. He is articulate and he is good on the stump.”

Kenny also said Menendez’s legislative skills would become self evident in a short time, giving him a prominent position in the Senate.

daunting task Menendez beat Kean by more than eight percent of the total vote statewide, although until a few days before the polls opened on Nov. 7, he and Kean were nearly tied in the opinion polls.

Although some questioned how well Hudson County voters would support Menendez, when the polls closed, Menendez had received almost 81,000 voters, providing him with a huge cushion against Kean serge in other parts of the state. Last year, Hudson County gave Jon Corzine 62,000 in the governor’s race.

The depth of feeling stunned even politically-hardened people like Kennelly.

“The line of voters at Menendez headquarters in Jersey City went around the block,” he said

One of those volunteers was Jerome Coldwell, a Bayonne resident, who worked at the Jersey City headquarters.

“Everybody came out, we had senior citizens, we had kids,” he said. “Everybody thought it was time for a change, and worked to save Social Security and other programs threatened by the Bush administration.”

Political consultant Tony Amabile said he received five calls on election day to see if he had voted yet.

Kennelly said everyone was energized.

“Most people calculated that a Kean victory was a bad thing for Hudson County,” he said. “The bottom line is the list of help Menendez brought to the cities here. His losing this election was a threat to us all. We went into a self-protective mode, got the Democratic machine in gear and turned out the vote for Menendez.”

Many credit Kenny, who serves as chairman of the HCDO for the successful turn out. Insiders in several campaign headquarters said key Hudson County people – especially Kenny – worked constantly behind the scenes to make sure the organization got in gear to support Menendez in this election.

Kenny said the Menendez campaign became more active after Labor Day, although Hudson County was asked to produce similar numbers to those brought out for Corzine in 2005.

“We thought a daunting task for off-year election,” he said. “Voters are not as motivated in off-year elections as they are for a governor and mayor.”

Menendez will be a boon for Hudson County

Menendez’s election was seen as one of the key victories for Democrats in the nation, allowing for a possible takeover of the U.S. Senate, provided Democrats secure close races in Virginia and Wyoming.

“We benefit as a county because we now have a senator and governor who call Hoboken a home town,” Kennelly, “That’s not a bad thing.”

Menendez in his victory speech at his New Brunswick celebration, acknowledged the role Hudson County played in his election.

“Work, sacrifice, faith, family, progress – that’s what people in Hudson County are all about,” he said.

Eric Daughtrey, executive director of HCDO, said Menendez has been a friend to Hudson County.

“People in this county have had a friend in Bob Menendez, and now that he is U.S. Senator, he will continue to be our friend.”

Daughtrey said Menendez made this promise earlier this year when accepted the nomination and she expects he will live up to that promise now that he is elected.

Menendez beat Kean in all 12 Hudson County municipalities, dispelling fears that Bayonne and Secaucus might swing towards Kean. Jersey City, where some believed a feud between Menendez and former Mayor Glenn Cunningham might erode votes, came out heavily for Menendez.

This, according to Kennelly, bodes well for the future of Hudson County political theater suggesting that a peace may finally have been brokered betweens some Democratic factions.

Several key political observers feared that a less than enthusiastic vote might have led to more tensions in the party.

Kennelly said some local voters might have been angered by Kean’s campaign that turned Hudson County into a political punch line.

“Kean tried to kick us with his corruption campaign,” he said.

Kean lost this campaign, not Bush

In remarks after the results of the election were announced, Kean’s father, former Gov. Tom Kean Sr. said President George W. Bush caused Kean Jr. to lose this election.

Kenny disputed this claim saying Kean ran a bad campaign, harping on the negative, while failing to convey his own beliefs.

“If he had lost by one or two thousand votes statewide, I would have said President Bush was a factor, but Kean lost by 140,000 votes,” Kenny said. “This was a competitive race across the state. Kean just didn’t convince voters. Kean ran a poor campaign. The negatives debilitated him. He trashed Hudson County with every other sentence, a county that has been the economic engine for the state for the last 20 years. That is dishonest and disrespectful, and I think that resonated with Democrats around the state.”

James Barracato, a political consultant for York Strategies, said Menendez won partly because this was a Democratic year and partly because Menendez has a remarkable track record that Kean could not match.

“In some ways this was a people’s referendum against President Bush,” Barracato said. “But Menendez has a great record of accomplishments: the light rail, the ferry terminal, homeland security funding. He does a lot, and he has tangible things he can point at for what he’s done. What would Kean have done as freshman senator with only five years experience in state government? This election was partly about experience. Whether you like Menendez or not, you can’t dispute the fact that he gets results that as a U.S. Senator he is going to be good for New Jersey. He is not your typical newly-elected senator. He spent 14 years in the House of Representatives, where he has fought for issues and made contacts. He will have more clout and more ability to get things done in the Senate than others elected partly because he already knows the ropes of federal government.”

Barracato said this election victory was well earned.

“This was the race of Menendez’s life, and even his enemies have to admit he earned this one. He worked hard and he won this the old fashioned way.”

Even some enemies see Menendez election as positive

Some long time political opponents took Menendez’s side in this election, such as Michael Lenz of Hoboken.

“I voted for Bob Menendez,” he said. “Not because he was excellent congressman, but because the country needs him to be a magnificent senator. Given the state of the United States of America, I believe what he said in his acceptance speech.”

Menendez in his victory speech promised to wake up every day thinking of ways to make this a better country.

Lenz said he believed the Democratic Party needs to begin building a roadmap for the future over the next two years, a plan of action that will they can implement when regaining the White House in 2008. Menendez, he believes, will play a role in that effort.

More begrudging was the complement from former Lenz ally and former Hoboken Councilman Tony Soares.

“At the end of the day Menendez’s victory is good for America as a whole,” Soares said. “His positions on a National level such as funding for Stem Cell research and the war in Iraq have been two things I agree with the Senator on. Unfortunately he turned a blind eye to mudslinging, deficit spending, overdevelopment and corruption at local levels. The latter is why I could not publicly support him. In the end I am thrilled George Bush has been put in his place and the checks and balances restored to the people of the U.S.”

Soares like several other key political people believes that Menendez needs to abandon Hudson County’s political environment where his future policies might focus more on tax cutting and improving educational policies for the inner cities.

This will remain a Democratic seat

Despite the outcome, the contest for the U.S. Senate seat Menendez inherited earlier this year when Jon Corzine vacated it to become New Governor was one of the toughest and most bitterly fought in the state.

Some issues raised by Kean in his campaign to portray Menendez as a corrupt political boss will linger after the election claim several political observers who believe investigation into some of Menendez’s real estate deals may leave a gleam of hope for Republicans seeking to retain control of the U.S. Senate.

But it is a false hope. The U.S. Constitution leaves the choice of replacement of a U.S. Senator to the governor of the state. Except in Arizona, a candidate may remain in that seat until the expiration of the term of office without need of a special election.


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