My Run for Assembly (D-33) in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

(Peter Basso is running for NJ State Assembly in the 33rd.   – promoted by KendalJames)

(I submitted a version of this piece to the Jersey City Independent on November 29, 2012)

The real test of a community’s bond is how well it holds together in tough times. By any measure, the Jersey City community didn’t just pass the tests posed by Hurricane Sandy – it aced them.

But was the community spirit we’ve seen this past month a one-time occurrence, or will it last? Judging from my volunteer work in Jersey City Heights these last few years, I suspect we’re only just getting started.

Certainly, Hurricane Sandy mobilized more people than ever before. While our local government, mass transit and utilities worked around the clock to contain the emergency and restore public services, they needed more hands: Helping hands to donate food and clothing to those whose homes were destroyed. To clean the wreckage in the streets. To calm the nerves of stir-crazy families during the worst of the power outages. Fortunately, friends, neighbors, and perfect strangers across the city graciously filled that need.

Two days after the storm surge, I ventured out from my apartment in the Heights to answer a Facebook post requesting volunteers to clear out flooded basements in Historic Downtown. The daunting task was made easier by the smooth cooperation of the dozen or so volunteers who came from all over town. Our group included a young man from McGinley Square, a young woman from Hamilton Park, and a former Jersey City resident from Belleville.

Practically overnight, residents from across the City filled a makeshift food pantry at Barrow Mansion and met daily at the City Hall steps, donating their time to help.

Their efforts were an outgrowth of something exciting that’s been happening in Jersey City for several years now. New leaders have emerged, and community organizations across the City have been working hard to improve our collective quality of life. People of all political stripes have gradually stepped up – from the Heights, to Downtown, to Hilltop, to Bergen-Lafayette, to Communipaw Avenue – yearning, more than anything else, for action.

One way to look at these developments is that they’re filling a void left by local government. For example, over several decades, our government largely let its neighborhood parks go, taken over by crime and vandalism. Thus, community groups like the Washington Park Association, which I served as past president, were born to reclaim and revitalize them. Similarly, as shopping districts lacked healthy food vendors, groups like Farms in the Heights or the Journal Square CSA organized to provide residents with quality, sustainably grown fruits and vegetables.

Organizations and block associations are not new to Jersey City. But the last several years have seen a level of coalition building that is unprecedented. For example, just before the hurricane hit on October 27, the Jersey City Parks Coalition assembled leaders of local park groups across the City for the Second Annual Big Dig. That project alone drew over a thousand of volunteers to plant over 40,000 daffodil and tulip bulbs in our city’s parks and open spaces.

Our local government (at the city and county level) has also been taking community groups more seriously, partnering with us on grants, events, and neighborhood developments. These relationships have not always been easy, as both sides have had to build trust and track records of cooperation, but they have generally yielded progress.

Meanwhile, social media, especially Facebook and JCList, have allowed groups and leaders from different neighborhoods to spread news and recruit volunteers for projects critical to our community’s welfare. We’ve learned more about each other’s organizations and explored new collaborations.

A district like ours deserves a voice in Trenton who understands these dynamics and knows what we’ve been working for these last few years. I’m running for State Assembly in the Democratic primary on June 4, 2013 to be such a voice for our community. Our bond is strong, and as our economy bounces back from the recession, partnerships between local government and community groups will play a central role in improving life for all of us.

This is a time for all hands on deck. And as Hurricane Sandy demonstrated, our community has plenty of hands looking to help. Let’s get to work.

– Peter Basso

Vice President of the Jersey City Parks Coalition

Candidate for New Jersey State Assembly

Comments (4)

  1. Bertin Lefkovic

    Since it appears as if Brian Stack and his allies are going to be running off the “party line” in what appears to be the latest episode of his ongoing civil war with Nick Sacco, are you going to be pursuing the HCDO’s endorsement for this seat?  Is there a reason why you are running for State Assembly instead of State Senate?  Do you have State Senate and State Assembly running mates?

    Do you have any opinions about the upcoming mayoral race between Steven Fulop and Jerry Healy or the upcoming gubernatorial election?  Assuming for a moment that there are two complete slates in LD33 and Hudson County as a whole, is there a prospective Democratic gubernatorial candidate who you would like to see at the top of your slate?

  2. Peter Basso (Post author)

    I’m currently unaffiliated with a line, and I think everyone’s watching what happens in the “civil war.”  It may be best to just let it play out.  I’m not pursuing an HCDO endorsement, so I expect to be running “off line.”  

    As far as Assembly versus Senate:  I’m much more concerned about the competence (or lack thereof) of one of our current Assemblypersons. This is also my first race, so looking to keep it manageable and focused. The Assembly race is going to be difficult as it is, not looking to turn in into a suicide mission.

    I am hoping Barbara Buono makes a serious run for governor.

  3. Bertin Lefkovic

    You have to do what you think is right, but you should seriously consider trying to get the HCDO’s endorsement, since it is very likely that the incumbents will be running off the line.  You should also do your best to try to find some allies in the district to run with you for State Assembly and State Senate respectively.  As you probably know, ballot position is everything in NJ politics and in an election year like the one that we are going to see next year, it is virtually impossible to get any traction if you are running by yourself, stuck who knows where on the ballot.  

    You could be the most interesting, well-funded candidate imaginable, but most voters like to be able to vote down a line.  I feel very confident in predicting that there will be a contested gubernatorial Democratic primary election next year and it is very important that you find a way to bracket with one of the two candidates as I do not know if there will be more than two candidates with whom to bracket.  Aside from her home county of Middlesex and the progressive blue county of Mercer, where Senator Buono has allies, Hudson could be her next best chance to get the county party organization line of a Democratic primary voter-rich county, because of the Sacco-Stack dynamic.  It all comes down to whether the gubernatorial candidate that the party bosses back brackets with Sacco and the HCDO or Stack and his allies, which could include Sandra Cunningham.

    After the 2011 legislative elections, Norcross had some dealings with Sacco, so it is very possible that he could choose to align his gubernatorial with the HCDO, but Norcross also has a rapport with Cunningham and Stack (more through Christie than himself, although both are also aligned with Bill Pascrell, Jr., which could impact which way people go).  It is also possible that if Norcross chooses to align himself with Sacco, he could use his influence with Cunningham to get her to stay with the HCDO.

    Either way, the HCDO is going to be looking for candidates to run against Stack and his Assemblymates.  I don’t know if there are a lot of politicians in the district who are ambitious enough to be willing to cross Stack, but if you are set on running, you are undoubtedly going to cross him, so you might as well at least try to get yourself some HCDO allies in the process.  I would also recommend to keep an open mind with regards to running for State Senate instead of State Assembly, simply because there might be more people who want to run for State Assembly on the HCDO line than people who want to run for State Senate and put themselves directly in Stack’s crosshairs.  That said, I understand if this is your thinking as well.  It is just worth considering all of your options before you make a final decision, because there is definitely time between now and the filing deadline for you to change your mind.

    Whatever you decide going forward, I wish you the best in your endeavors.  More than anywhere else, Hudson County needs a progressive spirit like yours.

  4. KendalJames

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