If there was any doubt about Hudson County Democratic Organization unity going into the upcoming June primaries, U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez answered it this week during an appearance at a children’s center in Jersey City.
Posing for a picture that included State Sen. Sandra Cunningham, County Executive Tom DeGise, and Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, Menendez and others were instructed by news photographers to get closer together.
When asked by this columnist, “But are you really together?” Menendez responded, “Yes, Al, we’re together, and you can put that in your column.”
This is about as close to gospel as you’re going to get in a county that lives up to the old adage: “I don’t belong to an organized party; I’m a Democrat.”
Petty feuds are ongoing, and sometimes they lead to permanent fallings out with particular people, but apparently the rumored falling out among the current batch of Democrats hasn’t yet broken the back of the unity that Democrats are trying to achieve.
While rumors had painted a serious rift between DeGise and Cunningham because Cunningham blocked DeGise’s appointment to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey slightly over a year ago, all seems forgiven as Cunningham and DeGise head into their own reelection modes this year and Menendez prepares for the larger conflict of his own reelection in 2012.
Menendez, of course, has exploded back onto the local scene, using small venues in several stops in Hudson County to make bold policy statements, such as his opposition to the Republican House of Representatives’ effort to repeal the federal health care initiative President Barack Obama got through Congress last year, or to call for the removal of a liability cap for oil companies for oil spills. Menendez is expected to face a tough election in 2012, although who his Republican opponent will be remains unclear. It is possible that Gov. Christopher Christie, riding a wave of public support for his moves to cut government spending, might take a shot at it, avoiding the backlash his policies will no doubt generate when they are fully realized a few years from now.
Meanwhile, Mayor Healy was apparently summoned to an emergency meeting of urban mayors that included New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Newark Mayor Cory Booker to refresh their call for better control of weapons after the recent shooting in Arizona.
Who gets to speak first in Hoboken?
Hoboken’s second council meeting, with Beth Mason as council president, may give us a replacement for the classic Wizard of Oz chant, “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my,” replacing those fearful creatures with “bloggers, gadflies and political consultants, oh my.”
Michael Lenz, still licking his wounds from his November loss in the 4th Ward council special election, actually gave Councilman Michael Russo a back-handed compliment when defending his ability on the council’s Finance Committee. Sure, Russo knows what he’s doing, Lenz said: Russo is doing his best to make Mayor Dawn Zimmer look bad.
The discourse got worse from there, as speakers blasted council members and each other for lack of civility and use of the internet as a vehicle for political attacks. All of this came within days of the slaughter in Arizona that saw the endgame for this kind of political nastiness with the murder of six people and the near fatal shooting of an Arizona congresswoman.
Mason shuffled the political deck from the bottom, too, when she appeared to deliberately alter the speaking order of the public, making people even more aggravated. Accusations flew in every direction, sometimes even misstating facts, such as accusing the Russo family of being part of the redevelopment scandals of Hoboken’s 1970s when Anthony Russo, former mayor and the father of current councilman Russo, was considered a reformer then, fighting against the trend that burned people out of their homes.
Tough race for Mason
The chaos at the council meetings is partly orchestrated. While Zimmer supporters like Lenz claim that Mason and her allies are trying to make Zimmer look bad, the reformers behind Zimmer have everything to gain by turning each public meeting into a three-ring circus, trying to make Mason look inept as a leader. Even without the theatrics, many believe that Mason is going to have a tough time against Tom Greaney in the 2nd Ward election in May – although, as one consultant pointed out, “the only person who can beat Beth Mason is Beth Mason,” and some on her own side fear a campaign meltdown similar to the meltdown she suffered when she ran against Zimmer and Peter Cammarano for mayor in 2009.
While only six candidates have officially announced or filed paperwork to run, all the incumbent ward council people are expected to seek reelection in the Hoboken May elections, and rumored races as of this week appear to be as follows: Eric Kurta vs. Theresa Castellano in the 1st Ward; Greaney vs. Mason in the 2nd; Greg Lincoln vs. Michael Russo in the 3rd; Rami Pinchevsky vs. Tim Occhipinti Perry Belfiore and Lenny Luizzi vs.
Although some sources claim Lenz may seek a rematch against Occhipinti, others believe he will step back into his traditional role behind the scenes and act as campaign manager for the reformers.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.