Primary Postcript: My thoughts on the 9th CD

Thank God it’s over.  Nothing in politics is more dissonant than a primary where your friends are on all sides.

It feels so right to be united, now, with friends like Jeff Gardner, Dave Parano , Jacky Grindrod and Michael Galluccio – all fantastic people – in support of a good man, Bill Pascrell.  Last night immediately after the results came in, Garden State Equality endorsed Bill Pascrell, as well as Donald Payne Jr. and Marie Corfield.  Garden State Equality had not endorsed in any of their primaries.

Too bad I live in the part of Teaneck, which the redistricting commission cynically divided into two Congressional districts, that falls into the new 5th district, where the race is between Adam Gussen and Scott Garrett.

I digress:  Adam Gussen, if you’re reading this, call me on my cell, (917) 449-8918, and let’s get together for lunch.   If Loretta wants me to support you, trust me, I do what the #1 woman in my life says – almost all the time.  

Over lunch, Adam, I’ll tell you about your fellow Teaneck council member, Elie Katz.

Like you and me, Elie is observant.  After we passed the marriage equalty bill earlier this year, Elie mailed to my home a $250 donation to Garden State Equality with a warm note of congratulations.  I didn’t expect it.  I don’t know Elie well.  But I was moved beyond measure.   So don’t be afraid, Adam.  Be a real Bergen Democrat.

Now back to the Pascrell-Rothman race.  What happened?  Here’s how I see it:

1.   Steve Rothman has been a spectacular public official whom I genuinely adore, personally and for the work he’s put into marriage equality over the years.  But the wrong campaign was run for him, and yes, I know, no one can run a wrong campaign without his or her consent.  If you’re thinking that, Blue Jersey, you are 100 percent right.  In a nutshell, I believe negative campaigns do work, sadly, but not all negative campaigns do, and not all places are conducive to negative campaigns.  

As a result, voters in Bergen who are Steve Rothman’s natural base got turned off and didn’t vote.  Most still didn’t vote for Bill Pascrell – they just didn’t vote.  I felt the sea change in opinion the last few weeks when ordinary people in the area, not just us political heads, began saying, “I don’t like the campaign Rothman is running.”  I was hearing it all over, deep into Rothman country.  

2.   Steve Rothman’s campaign raised Bill Pascrell’s profile in Bergen.  Frankly, I don’t think many people in Bergen heard of Bill Pascrell.  Politics, particularly in New Jersey, is that hyperlocal.   And when they took a first look at Bill Pascrell, they liked him.  When they took a second and third look, they liked him.  It’s hard not to like the guy.  He’s a fighter with an easy smile, warm shoulder and friendly wink.  Heck, I wish my own dad were like him.

3.   Bill Pascrell’s message that he was the incumbent in this district, which he and his campaign inculcated from the moment Steve Rothman announced his intention to run in the new 9th, worked precisely because of Bill Pascrell’s s demeanor.  The message doesn’t often work if the messenger is a pill – and voters found Bill Pascrell to be quite the opposite of a pill.

4.   There was an easy message Steve Rothman didn’t use enough with Bergen voters:  Bergen deserves a Congress member.  Say it over and over, inculcate it over and over.  Do you, Bergen voters, want to be without someone from our county representing you for the first time in your lifetime?  

Of course Bill Pascrell knows how to represent Bergen just fine, thank you very much.  But back to the rule of New Jersey politics:  All politics is hyperlocal.  The message would have been a hell of a lot cleaner and would have resonated more.

5.   GOTV.  Whatever Steve Rothman’s campaign spent on GOTV – and I don’t know what it was, for I, as an individual, endorsed Steve Rothman but wasn’t involved in the workings of the campaign – the GOTV budget should have been doubled or tripled, even at the expense of the ad campaign.  And I say that as a media guy by background.

It’s not hard to anticipate it is easier to do GOTV in a concentrated city like Paterson than in disperse suburban towns like in Bergen.

Like Loretta, I’m sad for the loss of Steve Rothman from our Congressional delegation.  He’s done amazing work for the causes closest to my heart.  Perhaps his major flaw is that he never wore his support on his sleeve over the years – he fought and fought for us behind the scenes with great devotion and effectiveness.

But Bill Pascrell won this battle fair and square and cleanly. A truly good man impressed us all with a truly good campaign.  I wish I could say I’m proud to have him as my new member of Congress.  

Alas, I’m a few streets too far away.

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