Hector Oseguera was around two years ago when the woman now known as AOC spun her magic; now
he wants to duplicate that feat on this side of the Hudson.
Oseguera, who says he volunteered to help Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in 2018, is running in the rescheduled July 7 primary against Rep. Albio Sires in the very Hispanic-dominated 8th Congressional District. All districts are a bit odd thanks to gerrymandering and the 8th is no exception. Its heart is Hudson County, but the district also weaves south through parts of Newark and into Elizabeth.
Oseguera is coming after Sires from the left, arguing that the veteran lawmaker relies on machine support and inspires no one.
“Nobody is excited to vote for Albio Sires,” he says.
Excited or not, voters have kept Sires in the House since he replaced Bob Menendez when he moved to the Senate in 2006.
Like many residents of northern Hudson County, especially Sires’ hometown of West New York, the congressman’s family came to New Jersey from Castro’s Cuba in the early 1960s. Sires acclimated to his new surroundings quite well, becoming a star basketball player on a Memorial High School team that won the 1970 Hudson County championship, a notable achievement at the time.
But his political path has not always been smooth. Sires over the years has been a Republican, where he had little success, and an independent. He also has been mayor of West New York and Speaker of the state Assembly.
As a congressman, Sires is a dependable vote for mainstream Democratic positions. Yet, he doesn’t seem to go out of his way to attract attention or publicity.
Some may like that style.
But not Oseguera.
He says that when visiting voters during pre-pandemic canvassing, many knew little about the congressman. Some didn’t even know his name.
“Where’s Albio Sires?” he asks. “When’s the last time he came around to earn your vote?”
Oseguera 32, lives in Union City. His parents are from Honduras and the Dominican Republic. In real life, he is an attorney with the Weehawken office of UBS financial services with an emphasis on investigating money laundering. A cynic might see that as a great vocation for someone trying to bust into Hudson County politics.
In a more serious vein, Osequera backs the main staples of progressive Democratic thought – the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, opposing corporate special interests and more support for working class Americans and immigrants.
Oseguera says party voters can support a progressive Dem like himself without worrying about putting the seat at risk in the fall. That’s a valid point; the district is about as solidly-Democrat as can be.
Sires seems unconcerned. His campaign issued a statement that spoke about the pandemic, not the primary.
“Right now, I am completely focused on making sure that states and cities get the federal aid they need to help feed hungry people and protect the jobs of police, teachers and other essential employees,” he said.
“I am much more concerned about that than anything else. I represent some of the most densely populated urban areas in America and I see people struggling to pay the rent, pay their bills and get their unemployment checks. Helping people get through this pandemic is my top priority.”
The pandemic halted traditional campaigning in favor of social media, prompting Oseguera to talk about energizing battalions of young progressives to vote – by mail of course.
As he says, “The machine isn’t entitled to your support and it’s about time they figured that out.”
The practical problem here is the nature of a primary; just about any primary. Many primary voters are, if you want to use the term, “machine people.” These are individuals with direct or indirect ties to maintaining the status quo. So the ones most likely to vote in a primary are ordinarily not going to favor a challenger.
So, a challenger has to excite those who don’t usually vote in primaries. You need a lot of those types – especially it would seem in this district – to pose a threat to Sires. Oseguera is doing what he can, holding a number of online events including “meet and greets.”
He also got some good luck when he secured the coveted “Column A” line in Hudson and Union counties. He reasons – not incorrectly – that he’ll get votes from some people who simply vote that column as a matter of course. As the saying goes, “Column A, All The Way.”
Money helps any campaign and on that score, Oseguera, not surprisingly, is at a disadvantage. Recent FEC filings show him raising $22,000 to the incumbent’s $340,000.
True to his progressive oriented campaign, Oseguera says he won’t accept corporate PAC money.
Well, maybe AOC can help by coming to the district for an Oseguera campaign event – assuming that can happen before July 7.
To that, Oseguera candidly admitted, “I wouldn’t hold my breath.”