promoted by Rosi
“You’re going to get slaughtered.” That’s what Augie Torres, who writes the “Political Insider” column for the Jersey Journal, told me with a big grin back in August when I first told him I was running for State Assembly for District 33 (Jersey City, Hoboken, Union City, Weehawken).
Five months later, and five months to go until the Democratic Primary on June 4, 2013, I’m still running for State Assembly and I’m still in one piece. In the span of one year, I’ve built a campaign from the ground up, funded largely by small-dollar donations and a shoe-string budget. As a civil rights attorney and community leader in Jersey City Heights, I’ve learned the lay of the land, the problems facing our neighborhoods, and areas where State and local government must do better. As a candidate, I’ve been talking to residents about crafting a budget that works for (not against) middle class and working families; fully funding our public schools; environmental sustainability; and marriage equality.
In other words, I’m running as a progressive candidate in a solidly Democratic District – one sorely lacking real, progressive candidates and a political organization to support them. And one that badly needs progressive leadership if our District is to transcend decades of urban decay and an aura of corruption that many voters have unfortunately resigned themselves to.
The progressive vacuum is astonishing: Here, in Hudson County, one of the most densely populated, racially and ethnically diverse regions in the country – a hop and skip and a PATH ride to New York City – progressive voters are not organized and mobilized. Here, in Hudson County, at the heart of the Solomon Dwek/Operation Bid Rig scandal, progressive Democrats somehow missed an opportunity to seize the mantle of change. It’s a shame, as even before Hurricane Sandy, there was no shortage of work to be done here.
Sure, we have some progressive, or at least reform-minded, candidates on the local and State levels, but as I’ve learned, they too are bound by insiders’ rules: Who you can talk to, who you can’t. Who you can endorse, and who you’re limited to a wink and a handshake. It seems it’s every candidate for himself, even among the good guys.
For here in Hudson County, there’s the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) and then there’s everybody else (who range from Occupy Wall Street-types to Bret Schundler Republicans to angry independents who just want to vote out all incumbents). Spectators sometimes sort candidates into the “machine” and the “anti-machine.” Though there is pressure to choose sides, I’ve managed to find friends on both sides of that divide.
What’s a progressive to do? As a candidate, I am not sitting around waiting for a progressive network to sprout up out of thin air or for my political fairy godmother to tap me for a ticket. There is too much work to do, and the good people of my District should not have to wait for progressive leadership while political insiders play eleven-dimensional political chess at their expense – a game, which all-too-often pushes worthy candidates to the margins and deprives voters of meaningful choices at the ballot box.
Let’s be real: I might very well end up “slaughtered,” as Mr. Torres suggests. I’m under no delusions about what a hard race I’ve signed up for.
But that prospect does not deter me. When I declared my candidacy, I said that victory has to mean more than simply getting the most votes. A true victory for me will be if I can use my campaign to finally bring a lasting progressive movement to Hudson County. One that can finally steer our politics away from the insiders’ games and rules that the rest of us had no role in setting.
Of course, I can’t do this alone. Hudson County progressives, I’ll need you to introduce yourselves and join me. New Jersey progressives, I’ll need your help to make this race one that counts. It’s going to take time, money, good advice, and encouragement. But more importantly, I need you to support me by believing it’s possible to run as an out and proud progressive in “Hague’s Town.” Let’s show folks of all political stripes that it can be done.
Peter Basso lives in Jersey City Heights and is a candidate for New Jersey State Assembly in District 33.