Author Archive: MediumPetey

Charles Stile on Jeff Gardner: “Bona Fide Giant Slayer”

If you didn’t know much about the coming Democratic senatorial primary fight in what is currently the 35th legislative district, a column posted this morning by Bergen Record columnist Charlie Stile at northjersey.com is a clear snapshot and keen appraisal of what divides the two combatants, long-time incumbent Senator John Girgenti and Jeff Gardner. Each man has a very distinctive arsenal of skills and opportunities; each his own set of electoral challenges. The column is so sharp, I asked Charlie’s permission to print it here. – Rosi Efthim

Round 2 of Hawthorne political fight coming up

by Charles Stile:

Jeffrey Gardner’s shoebox-size law office in Hawthorne’s downtown suits his budget. After all, he opened his practice only a month ago.

The Lafayette Avenue office is also a fitting symbol of his new place in Passaic County politics.

The 42-year-old liberal activist seized a small Democratic Party beachhead last June, taking control of the Hawthorne Democratic Municipal Committee. The precinct-level victory yielded a modicum of power but a bounty of statewide buzz – he defeated John Girgenti, the 35th District state senator who joined the Legislature four years before Hosni Mubarak took control of Egypt.

The victory designated Gardner a bona fide giant slayer and hero to New Jersey’s network of reformers who generally stay out of messy, municipal level street fights. Gardner’s slate of committee candidates won handily, despite the Girgenti team’s attack mail and robo-calls financed by powerful, out-of-town allies – a $5,000 check from the fief of triple-dipper Sen. Nicholas Sacco (North Bergen Municipal Democratic Committee) and $5,000 from Sen. Dick Codey of Roseland, for example.

It also represented the first installment on a promised political payback.

Girgenti’s December 2009 vote against the bill legalizing gay marriage made him a top target for a takedown by the marriage equality activists, like Gardner, who saw Girgenti as a moribund, lowercase “d” Democrat, bereft of core party principles.

“Following his marriage vote, there were people who came out of the woodwork upset with him,” said Gardner, who volunteered for Democratic candidates for years but never ran for office. “It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. For someone who had been there for 30 years, it was symbolic for why it was time for a change.”

Gardner has now set his sights on a much bigger prize – Girgenti’s Senate seat. He announced his campaign in mid-January, just as the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commissioners hiring scandal unfolded. Girgenti has since been linked to the mess.

The state Attorney General’s Office is probing whether PVSC employees were pressured to make political campaign contributions to keep their jobs or earn promotions. Investigators are taking a look at an October 2009 beefsteak fund-raiser Girgenti held at the Brownstone in Paterson. Girgenti has denied shaking down anybody for campaign donations.

For a candidate like Gardner who lacks the cash and political network that protected Girgenti for decades, the PVSC scandal is manna from political heaven. It certifies his chief criticism – that Girgenti was not only tolerant of the cronyism that defines New Jersey machine politics, but that he may very well be waist-deep in it. It’s the kind of issue that drains the public’s faith in government and their wallets when the property tax bill comes due.

“He uses his political platform to hand out jobs to friends and contributors and there is no political capital left to deliver jobs to the people he doesn’t know,” Gardner said, offering a sneak preview of the campaign to come.

Philip Swibinksi, Girgenti’s spokesman, called Girgenti a “true friend of the middle class” who would “never tolerate anyone being pressured to support his campaign, financially or otherwise. These allegations are ridiculous.”

Gardner’s campaign has electrified liberal activists around the state – he raised nearly $3,000 from a Cherry Hill fund-raiser last weekend. But he will need a lot more than seed money and praise. The 63-year-old Girgenti enters his reelection with significant advantages.

He may be an aging institution, but he’s an institution with a popular brand name. Girgenti has also shrewdly navigated the non-ideological waters of Passaic County, forging ties with both parties over the decades. And he’s stockpiled a war chest of $347,000, which makes him an attractive asset for the Passaic County Democratic Organization, regardless of the political fallout from the PVSC probe. That money can provide a lot of help to local, down-ballot candidates. Girgenti’s treasury briefly made him the top candidate to replace former Sheriff Jerry Speziale on the ticket last year after Speziale abruptly quit the race.

Gardner says he will compete for the county committee’s backing but will challenge Girgenti in the June primary if he doesn’t get it. He is careful to insist that he’s not a one-issue candidate or a wild-eyed radical determined to overthrow the moribund party structure.

“My philosophy is that if you don’t like how your party is operating … your job is to get involved and change the candidates in your party,” Gardner said inside his office, where a framed copy of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech hangs near the entrance. But the current redrawing of the boundaries of New Jersey’s 40 legislative districts poses another hurdle. Hawthorne could possibly be moved to a neighboring, Republican-leaning district or the 35th could be recast to the GOP’s liking, which could imperil Girgenti or Gardner’s chances. The new map is still months away.

Gardner, a former National Labor Relations Board lawyer, is not oblivious to the obstacles he faces. Yes, Girgenti is stocked with cash, but it’s been a long time since he faced a serious challenger. Gardner believes the world has shifted under Girgenti’s feet and voters are eager for a change. Girgenti’s generation may be fading, replaced with a newer one that is more socially tolerant and unbothered by Gardner’s gay-marriage activism or the fact that he’s been with a civil union partner for 11 years. It is a generation that may also be a little less tolerant of PVSC patronage and less eager to endorse it with their silence or indifference.

“It should come as no surprise that people should say enough is enough,” Gardner said.

E-mail: stile@northjersey.com

Tyler Clementi’s body is identified

CNN is reporting (via the Breaking News banner) that the body pulled from the Hudson River has been identified as violinist, Ridgewood resident, and Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, 18, the victim both of an apparent suicide jump of the George Washington Bridge and of two classmates who broadcast a secretly recorded private sexual encounter over the internet.

At Blue Jersey, we’re subdued today, so troubled by the cruelty, so saddened by the loss of a talented young man getting ready for the world at our state’s university. More than anything, we want to join you in any efforts toward strengthening our young people – all our young people – so that we don’t miss out on what glory they can bring to us with their hopes, their dreams, and their long, long lives.

Rest in Peace, Tyler Clementi. We’ve got you, little brother.  

News Roundup & Open Thread for Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010

Strong arming, GOP party discipline and faked up reasons to deny NJ women health care

  • As Loretta Weinberg and Linda Stender began a press conference yesterday, a Senate GOP staffer walked in and distributed a letter from all but one of the Republicans who voted for the funding along with the Democrats in June, making it clear they won’t buck their governor.

  • Weinberg-Stender news conference video.

  • Weinberg-Stender letter to legislators.

    Big day for Cory Booker today

  • Newark’s biggest fiscal crisis in a generation, and the fix proposed by the mayor may be deferred (again) or defeated today.

    A widening of the NJ Turnpike

  • Your access to state parks, funds for reforestation.

    Hexachrome exposure

  • Residents of a chromium site in Jersey City are so far testing only at levels an ordinary urban dweller would have, says the the court-appointed site administrator overseeing the cleanup of 20 chromium sites in Hudson County.

    Summit to discuss the killing of an unarmed man in a Newark park

  • The question is, why is the city of Newark running undercover details targeting sexual activity in a Newark park known for hookups? Is the target only gay people? Garden State Equality wants to see an end to that.  
  • I am Leonard Lance and I approved this message.

    In 2006, the Hunterdon County Democrat newspaper did something really menschy: they took Mike Ferguson to task for his Stender is a Spender series of commercials. The commercials were low-brow, sophomoric and childish. The newspaper, known mostly for their conservative/Republican leaning editorial policy— was highly critical of the radio and TV commercials that essentially lowered the bar for political campaigns in New Jersey – as if that were possible. Stender went on to be endorsed by every major newspaper in the district, including the Democrat. However, she did lose. But the Democrat was right about the commercials.

    And so, it was with great surprise and disappointment that I now see that Senator Leonard Lance is using the same theme in a TV commercial—perhaps even a commercial recycled from 2006. While it is true that Mr. Lance does not have the campaign cash that Assemblywoman Stender does, he has lowered himself to the same levels that Ferguson did just two years ago.

    Senator Lance has received praise from Republicans and Democrats alike over the years because of his honesty and his courage in taking on his own Party. And as long as I live in district dominated by Republicans, he seems better than most. While I don’t agree with him on all issues like the war, paid family leave, marriage equality, and the Bush tax cuts— he certainly is much better representing the 23rd than Mike Doherty or Connie Myers. So, I hope he stays put.

    But the Stender is a spender commercials were a departure form his usual campaign style, and it does not do him well at all to take that tack.

    Hopefully, the Hunterdon County Democrat will use the same criteria to judge the commercial Mr. Lance is using, that they used in judging Mike Ferguson’s.

    Pre-July 4th Fireworks in Lebanon Borough

    The town newsletter for Lebanon Borough [Hunterdon County, population 1,065] is called the “Lebanon Lantern”. But the local government attitude towards free speech in this tiny densely populated borough is anything but ‘enlightening’.

    Recently, Mayor Mark Paradis and July 4th Parade Chairwoman Debbie Masco declared that non-partisan voter registration in their town was too much of an “un-patriotic” and “political” activity to be held in Lebanon Borough in their public park after the July 4th parade. Unbelievably, they even went as far as to threaten to have the sheriff’s department arrest anyone who attempted to register voters. Can you say Bull Connor?

    Also, Ms. Masco went as far to declare that voter registration in the public park after the parade would so offend her volunteers, that they would all up and quit and that would destroy the 61 year old Lebanon Parade forever. Ms. Masco, you need to keep things in perspective.

    In my capacity as Hunterdon County Democratic Chair from 1996-2000, I oversaw the County Party’s voter registration efforts at local town events all over the County. We registered voters in just about every town from Lambertville to Readington —-from Union to Raritan Township. We registered anyone and everyone —-anytime there was a township community day or street fair or Flemington Fair.

    Therefore, when I was asked by a group of young volunteers from the Democratic Party to assist them in organizing a non-partisan voter registration table at the public park in Lebanon Borough, I said I would help.

    So, I called Mayor Paradis to make the arrangements for a small voter registration table, in a reasonable and legal location in or near the public park. That was when the pre-July 4th fireworks started.

    Right off the bat, the Mayor denied my request, calling voter registration not within the “spirit of July 4th” or within the parade event theme of “America’s Moments in History”. Ironic, isn’t it?

    The Lebanon Borough Park is a ‘public forum’—where it is completely within constitutional bounds to register voters, given reasonable ‘time, place and manner’ restrictions. A small unobtrusive voter registration table in a corner somewhere is all we asked for, and were constitutionally entitled to.

    There is no activity more civic, more non-partisan, and more purely American than providing an opportunity for those who are eligible to vote to register. Voting is the basis of our democracy.

    Just what about voter registration do Mayor Paradis and Ms. Masco find so offensive?

    This was the first time in all my years in Hunterdon County that a seated Mayor declared that there would be “no voter registration” in his town. Throughout our conversation Mr. Paradis was never able to provide the authority he had to make such a declaration, either.

    After more than an hour of a heated conference call, Mayor Paradis and Ms. Masco finally relented —but only after I was compelled to invoke the ACLU of NJ. Go figure.

    McCain: Wrong for New Jersey, New York and the “Region”.

    There was a time when I fit in with the Republicans more ‘stealth-fully’.

    As a white, bald, bearded, paunchy male in his 50s, I blended in with the crowd. But, alas, today I was out-ed at the opening of the “New Jersey/New York Regional Campaign Headquarters for McCain”. I was recognized upon entering by the former campaign manager for Mayor Marty Marks. Oh well, with fame comes responsibility. Or something like that.

    The head of the McCain campaign in New Jersey is Senator Bill Baroni [R-14]. Sounding like the quarterback of a team that has not won a game in many a year, he declared the “New Jersey/New York Regional Campaign Headquarters for McCain” officially open today at 1pm. His counter part from New York, Ed Cox stood by his side.

    At this rate—that’s just one headquarters for about every 28 million people—that’s just about 11 ‘regional’ headquarters for a nation of 305,986,357 people. But seriously, folks…

    “New Jersey/New York Regional Campaign Headquarters for McCain”. That is a mouthful for a small headquarters, actually located in Perth Amboy [although they like to tout that the HQ is in Woodbridge, that bastion of Democratic activity].

    “Woodbridge has the kind of voters that John McCain appeals to all over New York and New Jersey,” declared Baroni. His counterpart did not seem quite as positive. Said Cox: “The headquarters had to be somewhere in the region, so we picked New Jersey.” Does not sound like a good explanation to the folks back home in the Empire State.

    Baroni touted that a coalition of “Reagan Democrats and independents” will win both New York and New Jersey for McCain. He and Cox repeated this mantra at least four times during the 40 minute or so press conference. Of course, it was a tough call whether or not he should be told that Reagan Democrats are either no longer with us may have retired and moved elsewhere. This year the ‘independents’ are leaning Democratic big time. The one word that no Republican dared to speak: George W. Bush. Hmmm….

    Also, on hand was Senator Leonard Lance rallying the Republican troops to win the New Jersey/New York region from “Buffalo to Cape May”. Kean Jr. was also there with some blasé comments about how New Jersey is going for McCain this year.

    The Baroni/Cox team was battered with questions from the media—101.5FM, the Associated Press, NJN– about McCain’s chances of winning in a state where no Republican has won state wide since 1997; No presidential candidate has won state-wide since 1988. Where McCain supports off-shore oil drilling in a state where “The Shore” is capitalized. A state that opposes the war in Iraq, that supports some sort of better national healthcare plan.

    Overheard comments, throughout the crowd:

    Off shore drilling is not a problem. So many oil tankers got sunk in WWII. They didn’t have any ‘ecological crisis’ over those ships.

    OBama doesn’t have enough military experience to oppose the war.

    Go Forth and Multiply, New Jersey

    Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock in the Palisades, you know that this week Governor Corzine delivered a major budget address that included a half a billion dollars in cuts from last year’s budget. A big husky ouch right in the heart of the Garden State.

    As part of this plan for state austerity, towns with fewer than 10,000 people will have their state aid cut in half.  Towns with fewer than 5000 people will get no state aid at all.

    Zippo. Nada. Zilch. An even bigger ouch.

    The budget plan gives towns that don’t have the urge to merge, a nudge to budge. Smaller towns may have to give way to bigger towns. And so on. The bigger fish must eat the smaller fish. But, there is another, better way, if your town likes its home rule ‘small and sweet’, rather than ‘big and brassy’, here’s an idea just for you:

    Go Forth and Multiply, New Jersey.

    Before your town merges with that that big metropolis next to you and your quiet Main Street gets all swallowed up by a crowded and bustling Route 1, here’s a better solution: Increase your town’s population.

    That’s right: Initiate a  public policy to bring your town’s population to over 5000, so you don’t lose state aid. And there’s only one fun way to do that.

    Tell your citizens to go forth and multiply. Know thy neighbor, in the Biblical sense. It’s good public policy to merge —-with each other, not with the town next to you.

    And think it about it. It’s a bi-partisan issue. No liberal Democrat or conservative Republican can or will object.

    If you’re a pro-life conservative Republican, you gotta love the idea of ceaseless, continual, and continuous procreation.

    And if you’re a liberal Democrat fan of the Kennedys and Bill Clinton, you gotta love the idea of getting to ‘know your neighbor’ in the Biblical sense.

    So, New Jersey don’t despair about the threat of losing your state aid. Do the horizontal shuffle. Do the hokey-pokey and shake it all about. Put the ‘sex’ in to Essex, Middlesex, and Sussex. Stop just Metuchen and use that Long Branch. Go down the Jersey Shore, and pay that toll. Go skiing down the Great Gorge. Travel up to the Palisades, and then over the GW Bridge. Take the PATH train through the Holland Tunnel.  F$%#k each other, so that Trenton does not F$%#k you first.

    Go forth and multiply, Garden Staters. It’s just good public policy.