HAMILTON – Powerful people in his own party wanted Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-14) to oppose Senator Linda Greenstein (D-14), a fellow Democrat and his running mate since 2007.
He had a political relationship with Greenstein, a friendship, and – significantly – the security of Greenstein’s positions on issues critical to Building Trades Labor. In addition, and maybe most importantly for this veteran lawmaker and President and IBEW Assistant Business Manager, DeAngelo had given Greenstein his word.
“I had a conversation with Linda some time ago and I said, ‘When and if you plan on going, please let me know.'”
Until then, he planned to back her.
“She has a hundred percent voting record on labor,” DeAngelo said. “If we were to turn our back on her, what does that say about us? The same with Brian Hughes.”
Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes earlier this year found himself challenged by DeAngelo’s other running mate, Assemblyman Dan Benson (D-14).
Greenstein was on one side with Benson. While simultaneously backing Greenstein, DeAngelo was on the other, not really against Benson, a longtime ally and someone with whom he quickly realigned, but with Hughes, for the same reason he backed Greenstein. “If we turned our back on Brian Hughes, a guy who signs project labor agreements, that isn’t right. You don’t turn your back on him. It’s the same with Linda. ‘I will stand by you, Linda, because you are a stand-up person. If you step on my neck, I’m going to punch back, the best I can’ – but I’m not going to be a Judas.”
Complicated in the internecine world of New Jersey politics, where power dictates, not policy, DeAngelo insisted on the policy priorities of his members and protecting – or at least certainly not opposing – those people in public office who respect those priorities. “I’m a loyal person,” DeAngelo said. “If you’re out there in public office and you tell me you’re going to support those policies that benefit my members and benefit labor, then great.”
Hughes didn’t survive the Mercer County Democratic Convention, as Benson defeated him in a landslide.
Maybe because he belongs to the same Building Trades organization on rocky ground in this iteration of the New Jersey Democratic Party, DeAngelo also failed to secure the backing of the organization. But Greenstein didn’t forget, and didn’t turn her back on him, and insisted on running with him, and with Tennille McKoy, a second LD-14 Assembly candidate.
Heading into Tuesday’s Democratic Primary, DeAngelo felt disappointed that the organization didn’t support him.
But in this environment, in which brother labor leaders Senator Steve Sweeney and Assemblyman Tom Giblin received the heave hos from their respective regions, he refuses to become complacent.
In fact, he is in a fighting mood.
“I’m telling the trades, don’t just show up at the events of elected officials,” DeAngelo told InsiderNJ. “We’re hosting events – in addition to making the usual rounds – and the officials are coming to our events. The Building Trades, for example, hosted an event for Dan Benson. (Post convention, Benson backed DeAngelo and DeAngelo backed Benson. They remain strong allies.). I’m making sure we get one on one with everyone, so they can see us and see our numbers collectively as a group. That is one way we are going to survive.”
The assemblyman also wants to make sure people in both parties remember the priorities of labor – and remain true to them.
He doesn’t want labor taken for granted.
“We are expected to give the big checks, but I’m telling people, ‘I don’t know if I can deliver that check. Where do you stand on the issues? I want people to remember, you can always come to labor for help. You don’t go to a non-union company for help. Whether it’s Newark or Hamilton, you’re coming to us. But I do see that consistently, we’re not getting the commitment from either party so much as we are getting it from individuals.”
The convention outcome within his own party hurt, but he understands the dynamics – and how they have changed drastically. “A few years ago, I was real confident in terms of party and electability,” DeAngelo said. “But extremists are taking over the parties on both sides. And while I used to be more relaxed, now if you stand in my way, I’m going to knock you down.”
The lifelong organization man, an electrician by trade, finds himself urgently in a position not only of fighting for labor, but of educating people about the labor movement.
“Some clubs are chastising elected officials, and yes, in the Democratic Party, they’re coming from the progressive side, and I let them know, you don’t have to like everything an elected official does, but we must ensure that we stay in control. I still get a good reception among a lot of independents, Republicans and old time Democrats.”
Amid a sometimes blinding blur of causes, DeAngelo said he remains committed to prioritizing the economic needs of working people. “I’m about job opportunities where workers can grow,” the Assemblyman explained. “I’m about making sure people do not forget the carrying out of our policy goals. An example is marijuana. Project labor agreements were promised to us, for example, in the areas of growing and dispensing. But I see people with licenses that don’t have PLAs. How did they get them? Friends? The PLAs are not happening in all places. They are here in Hamilton because we have a great young mayor with a staff that makes sure PLAs are in place. But it requires us to be there.”
He likes Speaker Craig Coughlin’s (D-18) StayNJ proposal – a refreshing break from the usual mill of special interest legislation – and would like to see Governor Phil Murphy back it, but as he looks around the General Assembly and sees the influx of new faces, he knows he must constantly remind his fellow lawmakers of labor’s goals.
“I think we have become extreme in the Democratic Party [and Republicans have their own version, he notes], and with us it’s progressives more or less insisting on ‘whatever I like,’ and they look at me and they say I’m part of the machine and they don’t like that. People tell me, maybe labor unions are a thing of the past. But I tell them, the majority of benefits enjoyed by nonunion workers have come about because of the policies secured by the labor movement, including OSHA, apprenticeship training. We wouldn’t have to raise the minimum wage if everybody were in a union. Same goes for healthcare and paid sick leave. People tell me, ‘I’m not in a union type of industry. I say BS.”
Loyal to those who back the organization, the organization man to his core still believes in organization. “People have gotten soft and forgotten what unions have done,” DeAngelo said. “Maybe when things start going away, they’ll remember.” And maybe the primary voters on Tuesday will remember another rarity in contemporary me-first politics – a man who keeps his word.