WAYNE – Someone will one day write a story about the Cosmopolitan, that inert, highway-frazzled stucco structure, heavy on glass and hung with chandeliers and appointed with arguably overkill interior lighting schemes constantly changing from one event to the next to capture – evidently – some nuance of mortal mood or otherwise elusive plot twist, a venue that for years has played host to those many mostly conveyor-belted personalities, who have come through here on their way to history or political oblivion.
On Saturday, Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno and her dogged rival Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli played a game of dueling banjos with a crowd of Republican insiders – women by and large, since the New Jersey Federation of Republican Women held the event – as each tries to out-leverage the other on the way to June 6th Election Day.
A Quinnipiac University poll last week showed Ciattarelli closing the gap but with significant ground to cover with those 51 percent of voters who declare themselves undecided. Guadagno leads with 23 percent, followed by 12 percent for the assemblyman. The poll came out within hours of the lieutenant governor, hampered by Gov. Chris Christie’s dismal job approval rating, turning to comedian and radio show host Joe Piscopo for succor. After months of flirting with a guv run, the mind behind the Honeymooner’s Rap pulled out and endorsed the LG.
Microphone in hand in Wayne, Ciattarelli said of the gubernatorial contest, “It’s hard. It’s supposed to be hard. If it were easy, Joe Piscopo would be governor.”
Grudging laughs ensued.
It was decidedly a Kim room.
The woman of the hour, longtime GOP stalwart and state party committee candidate Susan Enderly, a beloved Passaic County figure and ubiquitous twin sister, distributed T-shirts in time for Guadagno’s 2009 debate with Senator Loretta Weinberg’s debate that read, “Got Kim?” Guadagno loved telling that story in front of the room – and the crowd rewarded her – and Enderly – with sustained applause.
“I love Kim,” Rhoda Chodosh told InsiderNJ.
There’s a bond there, a history, made up of all those countless moments when Governor Chris Christie squinted through tinted glass at snow bank after New Hampshire snow bank and Guadagno pulled duty back home at events precisely like this one.
Then there was Piscopo, who’s originally from Passaic, incidentally.
“Endorsements are important but they’re not the be all and end all,” Ciattarelli said. “But there was one endorsement I’ve been seeking for six months and it finally came through this week – finally my mother endorsed me.”
The crowd loved that, even though one woman found InsiderNJ’s ear and seethed, “This is supposed to be about Susan, and you’ll see that Kim’s speech will be about Susan. Print that!”
It was true. Guadagno took her time later at the microphone gushing over the esteemed Enderly, in a truncated stump speech that she duplicates everywhere on the trail: detail-specific shout-outs to lovable locals – even as Ciattarelli bench presses statewide substance in room after room.
“That’s how you give a speech,” said Federation head federale Vanessa La Franco, after Guadagno took a bow and settled in at the head table (Ciattarelli had occupied a table in the nosebleeds).
Ramrod with the room’s rear guard – Passaic County GOP Chairman John Traier and Assemblyman Bob Auth (R-39) included – Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26) twinkled in chandelier sparkling sedateness.
“If you’re a conservative and committed, getting people off Medicaid is not a bad thing,” said the health savings accounts proponent, when InsiderNJ asked him about last week’s successful House vote to hit the eject button on the Affordable Care Act.
Sources say Webber all but hovers above the madness in his district that year, demonstrating every polling advantage in LD26 this season, followed by his colleague Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce (R-26), while Freeholders John Cesaro and Hank Lyon are father back in the pack, and tearing into each other in desperate pursuit of the second seat.
Webber’s staying out of gubernatorial politics.
“I’m focused on my own race,” he said,” such as it is, but having to back Ciattarelli in one county (Essex, where they’re bracketed together) and Guadagno in another (Passaic, where they’re bracketed), makes easier the case for neutrality.
State Senator Gerry Cardinale (R-39) was in the room, and so was LD13 assembly candidate Serena DiMaso, a freeholder in cruise control in a Republican district to claim the seat Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) will vacate when he claims retiring state Senator Joe Kyrillos’ (R-13) seat next year.
Then there was the LD40 slate backed by retiring state Senator Kevin O’Toole (R-40) and Totowa’s Peter Murphy, moving among the tables like Siamese triplets: Passaic County Clerk Kristin Corrado, Assemblyman Kevin Rooney (R-40), and former Wyckoff Mayor Christopher DePhillips.
“They started it, and we’re going to finish it,” when InsiderNJ asked the senate candidate about her contest with Bergen County Republican Chairman Paul DiGaetano for O’Toole’s senate seat.
The Corrado team has pumped some mail into LD40’s atmosphere branding DiGaetano and his compadres as government-glued together retreads, and now they’re waiting for the counter punch, which a source told InsiderNJ will come in the form of an argument against Corrado’s activities in the clerk’s office as she runs for senate. Corrado didn’t look too worried.
But that’s a war, by common acknowledgement, as DiGaetano – a former assembly majority leader – tries to get back to the statehouse. Traier has his back, in the interest of trying to nullify Peter Murphy, a former Republican Chairman here found guilty of mail fraud charges, reinvigorated now with ally Corrado’s standing in the party.
“Peter Murphy will be plenty powerful if Corrado wins,” Traier told InsiderNJ. “He’ll have a senator – and a governor, if Phil Murphy wins.” (DiGaetano, though, it should be noted, was once a Peter Murphy business partner).
The same Q-Poll from last week shows Phil Murphy more than handling Guadagno in a head-to-head match-up: 50-25%. Traier’s association of the statewide Democrat and local Republican power broker derives from Peter Murphy’s attendance last year at an event for Democratic front-runner (no relation) Phil Murphy, which his foes claimed as evidence of double dealing.
The specter of Murphy haunted the majestic room.
Both Peter and Phil.
Ciattarelli needled Guadagno, while she kept her pole position-trained eyes on the general election and the Demorcatic front-runner, making fun of Murphy’s Italian villa and a home he has in Germany, eschewing any intra-party entanglements – even in jest – with the assemblyman.
As for Peter Murphy, that was another story – with multiple sidebars, pull quotes and rabbit holes – that one could easily associate with this room in the Cosmopolitan, routinely a haunt of the re-empowering boss, chamber of GOP secrets, celebrations, mood swings, and finally, on this day, a sharp elbowed good humor with a month to go before D-Day.