NORTH BERGEN – Trudging in unadorned Irish American shyness, more at home with poor people than slick suits,
genuinely ill at ease among suburban corporate types, and separated from time in a sense as one who scorns the modern creature comforts craved by most, Brian Stack nonetheless over all his years in public life has permitted himself a single extravagance: the triumphal march of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” to accompany his entrance at pre-Election Day rallies.
This time, he entered Schuetzen Park to the same Freddie Mercury strains splitting the speakers and 3,000 salsa-warmed people cramming the red, white, and blue festooned ballroom; and with a new ally at his side: Democratic front-runner Phil Murphy, whose smiling face plastered the walls of the paneled room along with Stack’s more recognizable mug. A retired Goldman Sachs executive who has infuriated his primary opponents as a rich guy apparently suddenly intrigued by politics, Murphy gelled with Stack tonight as the other half of that poor immigrant story returned – after a prodigal and hugely successful hiatus – to settle happily in among the next generation of washed-up-on-the-shore new Americans.
If Murphy’s the middle class on a good day Irish kid who left the old neighborhood for Wall Street, Stack’s his middle class on a good day cousin who never left the neighborhood, even with Wall Street twinkling just across the river.
Trying to touch a party nerve, InsiderNJ couldn’t resist asking Senate Majority Loretta Weinberg (D-37) if she’s inspired by the Murphy story: a mop-topped kid from humble working class beginnings who got gypped on his first job as a dishwasher, according to his campaign’s favorite ad. Weinberg’s eyes glinted humorous cagey deflection as she moved through the crowd. It’s a going groaning concession among Democrats that their candidate is yet another Goldman Sachs executive, like Jon Corzine, the last Democrat to occupy Drumthwacket, whom Stack barely endorsed for reelection in 2009. But for Stack – who always keeps his public remarks terse and telling – there’s a connection to Murphy, and he wanted his audience to know that it’s a deep connection.
Maybe it’s simply the Irish American experience with Catholic overtones, if even just the mythical version, but Stack
made it pretty specific.
“We still have a lot of problems, not only in Hudson County but in the State of New Jersey, but there’s a person who cares about the people,” he told the crowd, which an emcee earlier in the evening galvanized with shouted homage to different Latin American counties: Cuba, Colombia, El Salvador.
“There’s a person who cares about the average person on the street,” Stack now said, the crowd rounded out by a sturdy selection of elected officials, including Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32), Weinberg, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis, state Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-31), Assemblywoman Angela McKnight (D-31), Assemblyman Nick Chiaravalloti (D-31), Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-33), Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro (D-33), and freeholders Junior Maldonado and Anthony Romano. “In New Jersey there’s a person who cares about the urban areas and the whole state – but you know what he cares about the most?
“The poor,” Stack said, letting the word stick. “And that’s very important to me. The hard working poor.”
The crowd erupted with applause.
“Make sure we get everyone out to vote,” added the senator. “Not only in November but, more importantly, on June 6th. We have to get everybody out to vote. It’s not about me. It’s for the state of New Jersey. Everyone out to vote. I want everybody out to vote.”
A GOTV animal, Stack’s position on the ballot this year under Murphy on the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) line gives Murphy 10,000 votes in the bank. The fact that Stack is working frantically to produce in 11 days puts that much more pressure on North Hudson’s other kingpin: state senator Nick Sacco (D-32), whose organization also produces 10,000 votes. Occupying the HCDO line means that Murphy starts June 6th with a 20,000 vote head-start, and Stack wants to put that number into overdrive and outshine Sacco.
Murphy went up to the microphone.
“I’m so honored to be here tonight,” he said. “This is not a typical
Thursday night for me, I want to let you know that. I’m so humbled to be here tonight. Mayor Stack, I cannot thank you enough for your support, for your friendship. It’s time for a new governor in the state of New Jersey.”
A huge roar ensured, the people in the roar either unaware of the fact – or uncaring at this point – that they gave a similar running start to Republican Governor Chris Christie – whom Stack endorsed – back in 2013. With no objections, Murphy seemed equally at home making his usual break-from-the-Christie era entreaty to some of Christie’s prime empowerers.
“We have to get this state strong again,” said the Democratic front-runner.
“We have to get this state fair again,” he added.
He ticked off his priorities to raucous applause: minimum wage up to $15. earned sick leave for everyone, equal pay for equal work, college more affordable, sensible gun safety laws, etc.
The speech got a big hand.
In the packed crowd afterwards, InsiderNJ tried to get to Murphy to ask him if he picked a side in the ongoing speaker’s battle – for there stood Prieto as part of Stack’s finery even as Stack backed senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) for another term, thereby seeming to deprive Prieto – who doubles as Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) chairman – of another two-year stint as General Assembly speaker.
“We are going to focus on one election at a time,” said Murphy minder Brendan Gill as his charge waded amiably into a
sea of love-showering Stackites.
Stack’s slate mate Mukherji is said to be in discussions for Budget chair, the bargaining chip Stack might require in order to release Mukherji to back Prieto’s challenger, Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-19), for speaker. Two sources said Stack was scheduled to sit down with South Jersey and/or Middlesex County on Friday to determine whether that’s a move he wants to make, even as he tries to keep the peace with Sacco through the election time theatrics of their mostly friendly rivalry.
As for Prieto, “I feel good,” he told InsiderNJ with confidence. He and Sacco both see Coughlin’s list as very tentative and the situation very fluid.
In the midst of the festivities, a source on the Coughlin side of the war called in to remind InsiderNJ that since Democrats took over the majority in 2002, leaders have typically served two terms as speaker. Two terms max and done.
Whatever Stack decides to do on that front – and so much of the political decisions he has made over the years pit him against the HCDO, indeed his political being seems forged out of those fights with the party establishment, he wanted Murphy to know that he’s with him. Whatever the past history with Christie, whatever the dynamics of party power and legislative politics, however this all breaks out, Stack wants the ear of the governor. He means to prove in 11 days that he needs that ear, because that ear requires the shoe leather of Union City. That’s the more fundamental deal for Stack right now, and the undercurrent of all the evening’s klieg light optics and Queen soundtrack fury. The rest of the relationships be damned, if necessary, he seemed to say: Murphy’s the man and there’s a common bond and Stack trusts that that bond is the poor and a commitment by one maybe more worldly guy to help with dollar allocations from the front office once Stack helps him get there, the guy who never left the old neighborhood, who’s still – maybe with the Catholic guilt kicking at him – just manning the huddled masses soup kitchen after all these years.