In Atlantic City, Kennedy-Fueled Democrats Talk Up Down Ballot Havoc in New Territory, Including LD39, 13, and 40


ATLANTIC CITY – A pair of reporters standing in the Borgata casually played the role of Olympic judges, Jersey style, awarding grades to those shuffle-stepping politicians that boarded – with varying degrees of real difficulty – the escalator off the casino floor. Their destination was the packed ballroom, where, shortly after breakfast, another meal materialized in silver steaming troughs.

Lincoln Gardens icon Buster Soaries once told InsiderNJ that politics in New Jersey is organized crime, and it’s true, Democrats like to kill one another, and commonly undercut their best statewide efforts with diner booth-style knife-fighting (see Corzine v. Christie 2009).

But this Democratic State Conference came as close to  anything the cannibalizing party has had to tolerance for itself, with even former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) teased out of retirement to deliver a stirring stem-winder in front of an absolutely rapt Phil Murphy, the Democratic nominee for governor.

Certain skeptics have looked askance at Murphy’s Wall Street background, putting their heads in the heads at the optics (and there’s a dismally overused term) of a banker standing at the vanguard of the anti-Trump movement. But Kennedy, maybe alert to the fact that Murphy kicked off his campaign by showing grainy black and white film footage of Kennedy’s uncle, Bobby, campaigning in 1968 as Murphy overdubbed the inspiring leaders of his youth, drilled passionately into FDR macadam.

“He was the greatest president for working people,” yelled a shirt-sleeves rolled-up Kennedy, drawing together the ethnic historic threads of his own bundler grandfather, Joe, with the rise of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and a national working class agenda built in part on the sweat of the Irish.

It looked and felt real.

It looked and felt like a beat down that the polls show, at least in the room, fueling comments like the following from Democratic State Party Chairman John Currie, “We’re competitive in 39 and 40,” he said, reaching in and grabbing two legislative districts that not many insiders will argue are competitive.

But he wasn’t the only one talking up 39.

Monmouth Democrats keep talking up 13, too, amid a swarm of 2018 Congressional candidates pounding the casino upper level carpet, including Tanzie Youngblood (CD2), Jim Keady (CD4), Goutam Jois (CD7), and many others.

A blur on a cellphone passed near the escalators.

Later, one realized it had been Woodland Park Mayor Keith Kazamrk, a possible CD11 prospect, in full-blown operative mode.

Currie – and Murphy for that matter – both tried to stare down overconfidence.

“New Jersey is at a crossroads right now,” the state party chairman told the overflow ballroom crowd. “I can tell you, we’re counting on you. Not only the Murphy-Oliver team, as well as mayors and council people. We see a great opportunity. But the only way we can improve and make this happen is to not be complacent. Ambassador Phil Murphy is not the governor. We can only make him the governor when we put him in that chair. It’s going to take shoe labor.”

Seen in the crowd at the Friday luncheon: Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37), Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-7), Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36).

The last speaker of the afternoon, Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-34) pressed the argument for the creation of a supermajority in the state of New Jersey.

She unapologetically mangled Guadagno’s name at the microphone, detouring as she made a point. “If Guadagno – and I love the fact that you can’t pronounce her name, Congressman Pallone – we’re going to make sure no one can pronounce it,” the Democratic LG candidate said amid a shower of applause.

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