Bayonne at the Edge of the Mayoral Kickoffs: The Crossroads of the Crusades

I did my homework, sister. Honest. Honest!

Owwww!!!

Ah, Bayonne.

Take a walk through it sometime and try to resist the evocations of a Catholic childhood, where the Our Lady’s and Saints this or that crop up on every other signpost, it seems, as the place appears locked in a Vatican satellite orbit, offering the bizarre contradiction – much the way the Crusaders must have in the Middle Ages – of pious spiritual resonance tethered to sleeves-rolled-up tough guy attitudes, all in a handful of tattered, spire-shadowed skid row blocks out on Avenue C.

The phone rang as we drove into the Hudson burgh earlier today and a source asked InsiderNJ about the unfolding 2018 mayoral election in Bayonne. The mental image of two guys in full battle armor swinging two-handed swords for the fences and clanking one another’s heads flickered as we searched for the right word.

“It… will… be… bloody,” was what came out.

“Yeah,” said the source, apparently satisfied with the political probity of that assessment. “Bloody.”

The phone went dead.

O’Donnell

Former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell (D-31) wants to be mayor, and he’ll kick his campaign off tonight at (where else) the Knights of Columbus, just blocks away from the municipal complex where Mayor Jimmy Davis currently sits on the throne.

O’Donnell’s a retired firefighter.

Davis is a cop.

You wonder if these guys ever responded to a scene together, a fire for example. Was someone’s ego stepped on at one point during the hoisting of a gurney or planting of a roadside flare? Was there a jurisdictional shoving match or police v. fire chest thumping? Whatever bad blood exists between the two of them gets compounded by the mangled history of Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti and O’Donnell. Their sons are on the same traveling baseball team. That’s where the goodwill ends. O’Donnell was Chiaravalloti’s campaign manager in 2007, and they appeared to be friends. But then Chiaravalloti lost and in 2010, with the election of O’Donnell pal (and police brass) Mark Smith, O’Donnell became the assemblyman. That irked Nick. He the intellect and the former Menendez state director. O’Donnell, well, O’Donnell was the kid with the clipboard.

Nicholas
Chiaravalloti

But after getting sworn in, O’Donnell went to work in Trenton showing he doesn’t get pushed around, jumping into the public sector war with Gov. Chris Christie almost instantaneously.

“You want to go after police and firefighters, look, I get it,” he said at the height of the political collision, as Christie teamed with South Jersey to overhaul public pensions and benefits. “You want to go after teachers? Now you’ve lost me. I run into burning buildings for a living, but the day I felt most vulnerable was the day I dropped my daughter Caroline off for her first day of school.”

Teachers?

They made him feel better. They made him confident that he could leave his little girl in school.

When O’Donnell delivered that speech, a roomful of teachers gazed back at him with tears in their eyes.

But statewide politics gobbled him up and spat him out, his public sector pension views making him persona non grata in South Jersey circles; and just as then-Assemblyman Ruben Ramos’ “nay” vote on the overhaul got him guillotined with state Senator Brian P. Stack, O’Donnell’s opposition to the Christie-GN3 agenda came back to do him in when Barbara Buono had him all lined up to chair the Democratic Party in 2013.

Just as quickly as he had shone as a rising star in the party, he appeared done statewide.

Well, at least he had Bayonne.

Or did he?

Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis

Shockingly, Smith lost in 2014 – to Davis, and in accord with Hudson protocol, where the mayor picks the assemblyperson, the new mayor hit the eject button on O’Donnell and – in a bit of sadistic irony – supplanted him with Chiaravalloti. There was another piece to that switch, too, with bigger implications. Smith had run afoul of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ). It had gotten so bad, in fact, that Menendez decided he wanted Smith on ice, and that’s just how it went down.

Now Menendez battles for his political life in a Newark courtroom.

Menendez

If he doesn’t survive, he may take his political machinations to prison.

But if he lives and gets out of that courtroom, will he unleash all his stymied and pent-up political frustration and infamous temper on one of his favorite local battlegrounds – that little oblong chunk of peninsula south of Jersey City, for example?

O’Donnell’s wading in regardless.

As for Davis, he’s likewise not interested in waiting around to make a statement about his intentions.

O’Donnell kicks off tonight.

Davis tomorrow night.

We can’t make any predictions.

But politics is a nice word here for war.

That was the mantra coming out Jimmy Davis headquarters four years ago, just before he stunned Smith in the runoff election.

We’re guessing someone, somewhere in Bayonne, will be made to atone.

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  • M. Hennessey

    Dear Mr. Pizzaro,
    I was a Bayonne teacher that dutifully served for countless years. I remember very well when O’Donnell and Steve Gallo had us teachers working WITHOUT a contract for FOUR years. I remember being threatened to support Smith and to pay fundraiser fees or else be punished. I decided to retire and leave because us teachers became political collateral in his bullying game. He wasn’t this golden boy that was protecting me and my fellow teachers, he was a well-dressed bully pulpit that berated us.
    Thank you

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