He’s lived half his life in Jersey City and half in Bayonne, and PJ Leonard has seen a lot. In fact, he is the kind of guy who pops up right in the center of political action, even it’s only as the manager of a tavern.
In his 48 years on this earth, Leonard has worked at several jobs, including as a New York Stock Exchange employee, political organizer, and restaurant manager.
Leonard grew up on Sip Avenue on the city’s west side as one of seven children. At age 12, his family moved to Bayonne, then back to Jersey City, where he graduated from Hudson Catholic High School in 1980. He has since moved back to Bayonne.
During his travels, he has seen much, and is filled with stories. Since he is a filmmaker at heart, he figured these stories would make for good television.
Politics, he said, is a show. So why not put it on TV where it belongs?
Now, he is hoping to start a TV show about Hudson County politics, using semi fictionalized characters based on those he has met over the years.
On the corner
A former manager of Nico’s Restaurant on the corner of York and Washington Boulevard in Jersey City, Leonard had a front row seat on political intrigue for decades. Nico’s was a popular political hangout in the late 1990s, and sometimes frequented by some members of the underworld.
He recalled one of his customers, a mafia capo.
“This is something real.” – PJ Leonard
This was during a time when figures like former County Executive Robert Janiszewski and his associate Paul Byrne frequented the restaurant as well – legendary and sometimes bigger-than-life political characters who provided a little color to the otherwise drab world of government.
Called “Hudson County,” his TV series would roughly resemble “The Sopranos.”
Political deals over drinks and calamari
Leonard said political decisions sometimes got made in the downstairs room, like the time when Jim McGreevey came in with Janiszewski to shore up support for his run for governor. At the time, Janiszewski was backing another candidate, but eventually he fell into line.
Leonard said in those days political figures could often be found in the same environment as mobsters, and over the years, he kept many of the stories he saw or heard in the back of his head.
It is this mingling of stories that he is drawing on for his new TV series.
He said names will be changed and characters combined, but anyone who knows Hudson County will likely recognize who’s who in his series. He said the series will be gritty and real.
A onetime candidate for City Council in Jersey City, Leonard has worked a number of political campaigns. He said he’ll draw on his experience, but the characters will be fictional.
A former associate producer for the Off-Broadway show “Dreamstuff,” Leonard has been involved with the industry since the late 1990s. He caught the entertainment bug in the mid-1970s when a theater group opened at his parish. He has a number of film credits as producer, executive producer, or writer, dating from about 2006, although he has acting credits prior to that.
Leonard has been involved with a number of films, including a number of shorts.
In 2006, his film “The Immaculate Misconception” won an award at the Gasparilla International Film Festival in Tampa. He followed this up with a film called “The Fallen Faithful,” which stars veteran actors Sonny Marinelli, Mark Margolis, and Obba Babatunde.
Babatunde, who has been nominated for Emmy and Tony awards and acted in films that include “Silence of the Lambs” and “That Thing You Do” will also be involved in the proposed TV show.
Marinelli, who has appeared in a number of TV shows, including “NYPD Blue” and HBO’s “Entourage” will also join the ensemble.
The episode treatments include the pilot and nine subsequent episodes that would make up the first season of the show, to be set in modern day Hudson County.
Leonard said he is currently trying to raise money from the public, but believes that once networks see it, they will want to carry it.
Shooting could take place nearly any place in Hudson County, since the county itself has its own unique characteristics, he said.
“This is something real,” he said. “But these are things that could only happen in Hudson County.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.