Aftermath of the Clinton-Obama primary

While none of the local Democrats appear to hold political grudges against each other for backing either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in the Feb. 5 Democratic primary, the election had huge implications for upcoming local races, especially in Hoboken, Jersey City, and Bayonne.

In Hudson County, the prominent supporters of Obama were state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, state Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith, Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, and Hoboken Councilman Michael Russo.

Obama’s narrow victory in Jersey City and narrow loss in Hoboken have a curious political fallout.

Cunningham, Smith and other leaders in the African-American community in Jersey City brought out such a significant vote for Obama in Ward F, that they counteracted Clinton’s wins in other parts of the city.

This suggests that Cunningham and Smith may have a clear edge in next year’s municipal elections in Jersey City, while Healy, who failed to generate strong support elsewhere in the city, may be seen as extremely vulnerable.

Healy, the co-chairman of the Obama campaign for the state, was unable to deliver other wards in Jersey City.

The election, as with last year’s Democratic primaries that propelled Cunningham into the state Senate, may well make the African-American community aware of its political power in Jersey City.

A poll supposedly scheduled to be run early next month by Jersey City mayoral hopeful Louis Manzo may indicate more strengths and weaknesses in the Healy re-election campaign. A poll conducted in mid-January, just days after Cunningham took office, showed Cunningham’s local approval rate at 42 percent, while Mayor Healy had slipped to about 30. The primary results seemed to bear out these numbers.

Russo may be winner despite backing Obama

Although critics of Russo in Hoboken claim that Russo’s siding with a losing candidate may have damaged his chances to become mayor in 2009, other political observers believe the move actually may have put him in a better position.

Russo controls, directly or indirectly, three wards in Hoboken, and with a bit of negotiating, possibly four. But his biggest problem has always been the perception that he represents traditional or “old” Hoboken, and that he lacks the ability to connect to newer residents in the city. Russo is the son of former Hoboken Mayor Anthony Russo.

The Clinton-Obama primary has been seen as a generational conflict with Baby Boomers – now in their 50s and 60s – supporting Clinton, while college-aged voters supported Obama.

In Jersey City’s waterfront residential areas and in Hoboken, Obama appears to have a strong following among young professionals, the ones that Russo needs to reach.

While some claim Russo was being opportunistic in supporting Obama, supporters of Russo point to how similar Russo’s own campaign three years ago was to Obama’s campaign of today, dealing largely with the concept of change.

“Michael did this on his own,” said one supporter. “I asked people what they thought if he was to support Obama. This wasn’t something came out of a strategy session. He really wanted to support Obama.”

While Obama appears to have drawn the vote of male young professionals in Hoboken and Jersey City, women of that age group seemed to have backed Clinton, and may be the reason why Clinton narrowly defeated Obama on both waterfronts. The other reason Clinton squeaked out a victory along the Jersey City waterfront was young Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop, an early and powerful Clinton supporter.

The Clinton campaign in Hoboken brought together the reformers and the old guard in a way that may heal some of the previous political wounds. Even divisions in the reformer movement seemed to have temporarily halted, as council members such as Peter Cammarano, Dawn Zimmer, and Beth Mason campaigned for Clinton. Cammarano was allied in last year’s ward elections with Zimmer’s opponent.

Don’t expect the peace to last long, however, since Mason is expected to run for mayor, pitting her against a possible return of Carol Marsh as the reformer-backed candidate. Zimmer may run as well.

Bayonne looks solid

In Bayonne, the primary has overwhelming implications for the June freeholder primary and the special election for mayor in November. One of the big questions that came up when Joseph Doria resigned as mayor for a cabinet post with the state was: what will happen to his political machine?

That machine came out for Hillary in a big way in the primary, showing that it is still a viable organization. It is expected to support the re-election of Freeholder Doreen DiDomenico in the June primary, and will throw its support behind a single candidate for mayor.

Reports suggest that Interim Mayor Terrence Malloy will announce shortly whether or not he intends to run in November. If he doesn’t, the organization could throw its support behind Police Director Mark Smith, who has been frequently rumored as a candidate. Former Municipal Judge Patrick Conaghan is also expected to announce in early March whether or not he will run.

McCain could have impact in November

The big fear among local Democrats, however, is the impact of the November presidential election on local races.

Since the numbers are expected to expand even beyond the record voters that came out for the primary – as the 114,000 independent voters go to the polls – predicting local races could be a problem.

Some believe that if Republican John McCain were to pick former Republican Gov. Tom Kean Sr. as a vice presidential candidate, the Republicans could actually win Hudson County in a similar fashion to the 1983 Kean victory here.

This could have a spillover effect on local races, giving a boost to alternative candidates for freeholder and perhaps even the U.S. House of Representatives.

Bayonne political people are concerned because of the mayoral special election will take place on the same day as the presidential election, bringing out voters who normally do not vote in local elections. Since there is no runoff in the special election, these new voters could decide who the mayor is despite a strong political machine behind one candidate or another.

North Hudson’s strengths and weaknesses

The primary also showed how well North Hudson Democratic organizations did.

In North Bergen, the political machine comes out strong for its leader, state Sen. and Mayor Nicholas Sacco. It also came out strong for Clinton, giving her 8,860 votes to Obama’s 2,477. North Bergen also saw some strong Republican votes, not just for McCain, who led Republicans in nearly every other community, but for the more conservative Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.

Romney has since dropped out of the race.

Despite rumors that State Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack would sit out the primary or throw his support behind Obama, he appeared at a Hillary rally in Jersey City and sent representatives to another in North Bergen. Union City overwhelmingly supported Clinton, showing that Stack can deliver the vote when he needs to.

West New York also came out surprisingly strong for Clinton, and may show some restoration of political clout for Mayor Sal Vega, who was on the ballot as a Clinton delegate. This strong showing in West New York could ward off a potential recall movement.

email to Al Sullivan


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