ASBURY PARK – If he’s arguably one of the more interesting people in New Jersey politics, it’s not just because Senator Vin Gopal (D-11) built himself a political platform in the span of time that takes others a lifetime.
It’s because of the position he finds himself in between North and South amid driving intra-party war drums.
The newly sworn-in senator tonight returned from Trenton to the Wonder Bar, promised the crowd of faithful followers that he wouldn’t let them down, then hoisted Governor-elect Phil Murphy onto the stage at his side.
“We are seven days away from being on the other side of the Bible,” Murphy crowed to cheers.
Gopal lives in Long Branch, and Murphy lives up the road in Middletown, and together they radiated naturally neighborly, Monmouth County vibes.
Murphy beamed in the presence of the young comer.
He may need him.
For as the Governor-elect and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) continue to fight behind the scenes, partly lately on the naming of an Education Commissioner (Sweeney opposes anyone with obvious NJEA endearments), and most obviously in the leadership shredding of those allies close to the North chairs who made Murphy, Murphy made a point of embracing Gopal and emphasizing and reemphasizing Monmouth proximity and priority.
Gopal’s precisely that figure in a fight who could turn into the elastic human draw bridge between Sweeney and Murphy worlds. By the sound of Murphy’s impassioned entreaties from the stage tonight, the Governor-elect will count on Gopal to be more than the South Jersey rubber stamp of former Governor (and stout Murphy ally) Dick Codey’s cautionary tales. Codey has so doggedly sought that branding for Gopal that the senator went beyond shrugging it off late last year when he stood up in the caucus room and made a speech about how – contrary to certain preconceptions in the room – he intends to be his own man.
Murphy will want him on his side.
Sweeney will want him on his.
Certainly, the suburban contours of the district put Gopal more in the political mind-frame that dovetails with the suburban-grounded Sweeney. Gopal had his own fights with former Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) precisely because northern interests didn’t always line up nicely with Monmouth interests. But Murphy – showing up here tonight at the Wonder Bar – made clear he wants Gopal to consider their natural regional alliance, and he did defy those naysayers who said his statewide victory would hinge on his running up the score in North Jersey, as wins by LD16 incumbents, local Dems in places like Westfield, and the LD11 Democrats headed by none other than Gopal – attest.
It was volatile…