I take this as a rally mostly for Bob Menendez’ benefit; House members Bonnie Watson Coleman, Don Payne Jr., and Albio Sires are also up in November but their seats are safe. They can each afford to spend some of their political capital on New Jersey’s senior senator, whose early lead is down to an uncomfortable 4 points. And of course, beyond his needing them now, they may each have reasons of their own to see him re-elected. Menendez faces no serious challenge in Tuesday’s primary, but Republicans are itchy for his seat. Combine the ethical cloud he’s been living under for 3 years with a GOP pharma titan willing to spend his own money; it’s opportunity. The senator was indicted in 2015 on federal corruption charges, and lived through a very public trial (hung jury, mistrial), pleading innocence all the way. The Justice Department dropped all charges in January, but last month the Senate Ethics Committee “severely admonished” him, ordering him to pay back what must be a big sum, the cost of luxuries his benefactor Dr. Salomon Melgen provided him. It’s enough that the NRSC is calling him a “crook” – that call will only get louder.
I like the Senator, and I see both good and less good in his record. It does put Dems at a disadvantage to have to defend Menendez when his own conduct raises serious ethical questions. I felt that way about Hillary Clinton, too, though she was not charged. It’s particularly unwelcome when the Democratic Party is still staggering under its own self-inflicted 2016 primary wounds, and two successive DNC chairs down in disgrace. If his trial had gone south for Menendez, or if Justice retried him, someone with a clean, unquestioned record might have been the standard-bearer. But that ship has sailed. In a long conversation on Facebook, somebody opened the question of whether Lisa McCormick was a better choice than Menendez in Tuesday’s primary. And no. No, no, and NO: She is not. She has no viable campaign, her own team’s ethics are highly suspect, and there’s a loose-goosey sloppiness to her operation that just does not fly. My response to the McCormick v. Menendez question is this:
“Menendez. Imperfect, flawed, but an adult.”
Yup – I’ll stand by that. And though I’m less a fan of identity politics than that based on issues, it’s just plain good for everybody to see people of color provide party leadership and energize voters. Women and men of color are the backbone of this party, and the party does not always do well by women and men of color, when it comes to supporting their candidacy – and leadership. It’s a no-brainer to show up for a powerful senior senator who is Latino. But our party institutions could do better for the women and men coming up, for what’s next. Let New Jersey show the way.
BONUS: Tanzie Youngblood (NJ-2), Tamara Harris (NJ-11) & Stephany Rose Spaulding (CO-5) are the subjects in a new film of black women running for Congress. It’s called: “Grabbing Back,” currently in Kickstarter.
Black and Brown Community GOTV Unity Rally
When: Saturday, June 2 (12 noon-2pm)
Who: Menendez, Watson Coleman, Payne, Sires with Scutari, App, Carter, Quijano & Holley
Where: Art Lofts (158 East 2nd St in Plainfield)