Boogeyman Politics or Heads-up Baseball: the Long Game of McCabe


The state needs a boogeyman, someone to approximate the Donald Pleasance interpretation of the Blofeld character in You Only Live Twice; that is to say, someone intelligent enough to outmaneuver political enemies and deflate the will of anyone unwilling to devote 100% of one’s time to politics; and sufficiently ruthless to scare people in a pinch.

It’s always been that way, at least going back to Hap Farley and Frank Hague.

Nerds who care about policy can debate in committee.

But the bosses who fancy themselves tough guys will pull their strings when someone needs to exert an extra measure of power or horror, depending on the specific need.

Since the regional shriveling up of George Norcross and the essential demise of the South Jersey Democratic Machine (yes, they still have Camden, but it’s not the southern suburban juggernaut it was once), New Jersey has cast around for its next eagle-crested, muscle-bound pharaoh.

At this moment in time, politics watchers see Kevin McCabe, chairman of the Middlesex County Democratic Committee, trying to inflate himself into roughly the same shape as that Macy’s Day Parade flotation symbiosis of Chris Christie and Norcross: simultaneously sinister, menacing, and prominently featured at every public function.

The subject elicits back chatter, pro and con, on the subject.

A McCabe ally told InsiderNJ how stupid it is for people – wounded by one of McCabe’s latest political throwing stars – to chalk up their own fuzzy-headedness at failing to avoid booby traps, to McCabe going boss Gonzo. “I don’t see George Norcross when I look at Kevin,” a source insisted.

Others do.

Or, at least, others – in this cycle especially, and even more than 2021, when Middlesex made Phil Murphy and others look like Manchurian surrogates for its own will by bending everyone, no matter how big, into the Edison mayoral contest, see Middlesex, under McCabe’s helmsmanship, driving harder chariot wheels than everyone else. And yes, it helps McCabe’s cause when reports surface of Norcross still trying to play ball and looking ragged around the bases in places like Mercer.

But think about this.

Having secured five in-county senators and built two more very solid allies in Senator Joe Cryan and Vin Gopal and New York/New Jersey Port Authority connective tissue into Hudson through McCabe’s presence on that body, Middlesex continues to audaciously move.

He even flipped veteran Republican Senator Sam Thompson into the “D” column this year – a big, audacious move.

McCabe also threw his weight early behind Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-14), who’s running against incumbent Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes. Benson looks like the favorite, as a consequence.

Of course, Benson hasn’t won yet, and Hughes has some strong backers, U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman and state Senator Shirley Turner (D-15) among them.

Still, McCabe’s hammer throw into Mercer shows that he wants to reshape that sometimes politically irrelevant section of the state by virtue of its connection to his own big, thriving beehive.

But that’s not all.

The subtler Middlesex McCabe move earlier this week occurred in Somerset, that other leafy – and slightly sleepy – domain, where the stars begin to align for the LD-16 Assembly candidacy of Mitchelle Drulis, U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski’s former district director. Now several people are trying to take credit for Drulis, offering evidence of their own fingerprints on her fledgling fortunes, among them those in the Malinowski network. They also point out that the emergence of Drulis (who now must be considered the favorite for the seat of retiring Assemblywoman Sadef Jaffer) indicates the certainty of a 2024 return of Malinowski himself. Drulis will maintain the Malinowski footprint in time for the defeated Democratic congressman to take a crack at dethroning Kean, an effort Malinowski must surely scrutinize with heightened titillation as Republican Donald Trump attempts to top a Republican ticket.

Deeper than that, though, and possibly more potent in terms of longer-term implications of power in LD-16 and Somerset, is the fact that Drulis’ husband works as the business administrator in New Brunswick, a Middlesex town under the auspices of McCabe.

Remember, Somerset Dems saber rattled Zenon Christodoulou as an LD-16 option, only to back the Middlesex-based Andrew Zwicker for the seat.

Drulis indicates the ongoing power flex by Middlesex.

Does it scare people?

It does.

It scares sources in Somerset and Mercer who fear Middlesex getting too big and too strong, and treating those smaller, humbler counties as satellites to McCabe’s power. They also note – with a tinge of irony – how McCabe received some of his political training from the former chairman (and statewide power broker) John Lynch. It was Lynch, after all, jammed-up on mail fraud and tax evasion charges – whose plummet from power set up the next iteration of throne-sharing between Christie and Norcross.

Middlesex would not be denied, even all these years later.

Others laugh heartily.

Everyone needs a boogeyman to feel like they’re part of New Jersey, a source mugged. “It’s human nature,” he said. “Or human nature in New Jersey.” And anyway, the source added, McCabe never tries to strong arm anyone the way Christie did, for example, or Norcross. For one, he lacks the fearsome fortifications of a weaponized U.S. Attorney’s Office. “He’s a nice guy,” the source insisted. He’s not looking to stuff and mount any heads. He’s just playing high-energy elections baseball.

Contracts at stake?

Of course, but that’s everyone, the same source added.

That’s politics.

Still others who feared Norcross at his apex now clutch at him and his allies for animal warmth in the winter of their mutual discontent as McCabe – giving every innocuous contest Stalingrad implications – appears politically ascendent.

In any event, consider the following question:

Of the Following, Who's the Most Powerful Political Boss in the State Right Now?


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One response to “Boogeyman Politics or Heads-up Baseball: the Long Game of McCabe”

  1. Juliano is a tough politically astute guy. Don’t take him for granted. He can throw the political ball down the field and hit his target. Not too many folks heard of Tom Brady when he first got started. Juliano is an AllStar.

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