A (Handy!) InsiderNJ Election Guide Ahead of Tuesday, June 4th

Insider NJ editor Max Pizarro gives an analysis of all the main races and candidates in NJ as election day comes near.

It’s the old, ugly story.

People love what’s going on in New Jersey so much, that on Tuesday they’re going to restore all 80 legislators back to their thrones of power, or at least to the thrones of their respective party nominations, with another (mostly) uneventful election to follow in November.

All 80 legislators, except maybe one.

It’s that good here.

Howarth

To the extent that Assemblyman Joe Howarth (R-8) made his presence known at the Statehouse, people see him in jeopardy of bowing out this week, the casualty of getting too close to the talks that made state Senator Dawn Addiego a Democrat and forced Assemblyman Ryan Peter (R-8) to summon a stand-in for Howarth.

Running with GOP establishment support, Peters and retiring Sheriff Jean Stanfield hope to consign Howarth to perpetual no man’s land, even as the renegade incumbent tries to stay alive by affixing himself to President Donald J. Trump, and Democrats everywhere else trust that blue state outrage over Trump keeps their complacent, national-piggybacking brand alive for at least another decade.

Peters

It’s one conflagration among several that suggest the delineations of larger, more impressive battle lines, the same way a child’s chalk drawing on a driveway suggests Delacroix’s The Death of Sardanoplis.

Rather than prove a grand-scale design, Tuesday revisits past and future parochial stubbed toes and hurt feelings and perfunctory parental supervision and praise.

Take Edison.

Trying to sort out the players is like trying to triage a train wreck.

It basically boils down to the pro Mayor Tom Lankey forces against his political enemies with county committee seats at stake that ultimately (in some distant stand-off) impact how the county party organization runs. There’s also a longstanding (but, one generous reader insists) tangential rivalry between former local Democratic Chairman Keith Hahn

Hahn
Hahn

and Town Hall tough guy Anthony Russomano. Ultimately, it’s a moral imperative to vote for our ticket, argue those allies who five minutes earlier were bitter enemies.

The dynamics here place a sitting Edison freeholder, Charlie Tomaro, who is pro Lankey and supporting the off the line slate on Column A, against his colleagues on the freeholder board who are endorsed by the party and running in column B.

Also in Middlesex, the Central Jersey Progressive Democrats were in a door to door war for 50 party committee seats with the Piscataway forces of state Senator Bob Smith (D-17), who was said to be personally engaged as part of an establishment effort to stem the resistance.

Then there’s Union.

Linden Mayor Derek Armstead wants the U.S. Attorney and Attorney General to investigate the allies of state Senator Nick Scutari (D-22), even as he tries to grab some LD22 control away from the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who’s also chair of the Union County Democratic Committee, who also lives in Linden.

Linden Mayor Derek Armstead was in the room.

In Union Twp. and Roselle, which are both in Union, state Senator Joe Cryan is trying to keep Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-20) out of his town and Holley is trying to keep Cryan out of his town. Ultimately, the headache belongs to Scutari, who last year took the reins of a county party organization that has since remained split between Cryan (and Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr and Armstead) on the one side and Scutari on the other.

Apparently unsatisfied with sulfuric atmospherics in Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12) alighted in Scutari world, which prompted Scutari to reveal his own irritability over being parochialized, as he lashed out at the federal level Watson-Coleman.

Each scene – local, county, state, federal – contained the same story line.

I investigate you.

You investigate me.

You’re corrupt.

No, you’re corrupt.

You’re more f-ing corrupt than me.

No, you’re more f-ing corrupt than me, mother-f-er.

It’s on a high level.

In Union, they boiled over from every direction into one roiling swamp of ill will.

There were other torque points that carried the promise of implications beyond the immediate horizon.

In Somerset County, Republicans still shell-shocked from the loss last year of U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, turned on one another.

Moench

Horse country turned Dunkin Donuts parking lot, the biggest town in the county, Bridgewater, featured a mayor’s race between incumbent Dan Hayes and challenger Matt Moench.

Moench was running hard.

“We’ve knocked on thousands of doors, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive,” he told InsiderNJ. “They don’t want over-development and they want a roads plan.”

Among his adversaries, hair was turning white at the sight of him.

It was a real race.

Just as the sheriff’s contest seemed real.

At a pizza parlor in Bridgewater last night, someone reached for a card to order a pizza later and came

Hayes

away from the deck with a picture of a guy and a dog.

It was former County K-9 officer Tim Pino, who’s trying to upset the establishment’s choice, North Plainfield Chief Bill Parenti, from succeeding retiring Sheriff Frank Provenzano.

Pino’s everywhere.

Establishment Democrats in the meantime, animated by U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski’s (D-7) 2018 dethroning of Lance and the pick-up of two freeholder

Former Somerset County Freeholder Pat Scaglione leaped into the cycle with an endorsement of Moench, followed by a late-in-the-game letter to primary voters in which he proclaims embarrassment over the Hayes Campaign.

seats, last week rallied behind retired Franklin Twp. Police Lieutenant Darrin Russo at a rally featuring PBA chief Pat Colligan. Trying to get through his own primary on Tuesday, Russo wants to beat either Pino or Parenti in the general. If Pino loses but runs strong in the loss, all eyes will be on him to see whom he backs.

If Monech wins in Bridgewater, he deals a blow to Somerset County Republican Chairman Al Gaburo, who’s all in with Hayes.

It’s a little like Hamilton, another GOP convulsing town with a Republican mayor, Kelly Yaede, challenged by fellow Republican Dave Henderson, only in this case, the party establishment stands with the challenger.

Aside from those individuated efforts and a handful more, and the efforts by progressive groups to make

Altman

incursions into New Jersey’s Democratic machines in Middlesex and Camden (Collingswood?) and elsewhere (but without the help of the state’s progressive governor, who endorsed Democratic incumbents), most of the establishment continued to focus on the Statehouse, the powers therein, and the boss thereupon.

“The primary is only one field of battle,” Working Families Executive Director Sue Altman told InsiderNJ. “The leg work of changing the structure will go on.”

The legislative races on Tuesday were like the reenactment of a Civil War battle where one of the actors succumbs to heat stroke, while a real fight to the death went on in the throne room of a palace imagined to resemble an El Cid set-piece.

Norcross

It was Governor Phil Murphy against South Jersey power broker George Norcross III.

Murphy

Tapped by the establishment to run the state, Murphy in office found himself fast out of favor with the establishment, which had learned how to survive in the Christie era by fearing power. Once Murphy established that he was interested in advancing a progressive agenda more than he cared to feather the nest left behind by his predecessor, legislative leadership began having fun at his expense at the Statehouse.

All the fun Christie denied them now ran amok like hobgoblins on Halloween.

Mired early, he Hail Mary retaliated, and Politico on Sunday coughed up the latest soiled, bloody piece of meat.

The state Attorney General’s Office had issued subpoenas to parties connected to the 2013 administering of state Economic Development Authority tax credits, a source told InsiderNJ, specifically the state Economic Development Authority (EDA). The news came in the aftermath of Murphy’s task force sending a criminal referral to the AG’s Office, and subsequent information about alleged unregistered lobbying, boomeranging on the firm of Norcross’ brother.

Little relentless incremental skirmishes continued.

Porrino
AG Porrino.

Originally one of Norcross’ lawyers representing the boss against the governor, former Chris Christie Attorney General Chris Porrino opted out off the latest battle. Porrino’s representing the governor’s office in a scandal swamped by another scandal. Rather than simultaneously playing offense and defense, Porrino dutifully decided to continue representing the governor in the Katie Brennan-Al Alvarez mess, while others (Mike Critchley, Mike Chertofff, etc), represent Norcross in the

Kelly with her defense attorney Michael Critchley.

EDA mess.

That prompted some high fives in the vicinity of Murphy.

But it remained complex, as it would have to, as the state consumed itself, the toxicity of its political personalities pushing the boundaries of the lurid, the corrupt, and the grotesque.

One of their own had decided to run for president.

Booker

The rest of the country found in U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) a candidate eager to preach the gospel of love and peace, but there was a war going on in his home state, and that held more palace intrigue fascination for the types who fed the system.

“He deserves better,” one grimly trudging party foot soldier observed.

Booker had beaten former Speaker Sheila Oliver (among others) in 2013 to become U.S. senator, the perch he used to run for 2020 president.

Tired of wading through the old boys network maneuvering of then-Governor Christie and Senate President Sweeney (D-3), Oliver at that point had fallen out of the favor with the party establishment, and attempted to reforge herself as a statewide candidate for senate.

She failed.

Murphy plucked her off the back bench in 2017 and made her his running mate.

Fashioned by the organization that maintains good relations with Norcross as a function of maintaining power, she’s in a tough spot.

Oliver

Oliver was speaker when the infamous tax incentives passed.

She posted the bill.

That was before the good old boys became absolutely intolerable.

But in her current position, she oversees a local finance populated by Norcross allies and people close to Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Leroy Jones.

Jones is favored by Norcross to eliminate Murphy’s choice for the chairmanship, sitting Passaic County

Currie, Timberlake and Jones.

pooh-bah John Currie.

Sources say at the very least that Oliver has grown weary of trying to straddle the divide.

It’s a problem, a Murphy source acknowledged.

Plopped into the same spot that Oliver (and later another pre-rogue Vincent Prieto) occupied, Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19) now has the task of trying to look like a guy similarly fatigued by the puerile antics of all around him wearing either “N” or “M” t-shirts at the statehouse, even as the political deal-making that landed him there depended on Norcross (not Murphy) punching the “go” code.

Still, Murphy allies – amid the howling of those who say it can’t work that way as a matter of political design – are hopeful they can pry Coughlin away from Sweeney and Norcross.

Coughlin

Maybe that’s why Murphy made sure to endorse – with an end of the month budget deadline looming – two guys in Coughlin’s caucus, Assemblyman Joe Egan and Assemblyman Joe Danielsen in Democratic Battleground 17. It would stand to reason that if Murphy really is so damaged with organizations beholden to Norcross that he would simply back whatever progressive (in this case Ron Rivers) opposes the legislative establishment so that in counties not called Hudson, Passaic and maybe Bergen, he could ride a people’s army back into office come 2021.

But he’s still trying to negotiate this 2020 (nearly $40 billion) budget, and so maybe he feels he needs a pair of bodies like Egan and Danielsen.

I back you two, maybe at some political cost to myself, and in exchange you help me out with the millionaire’s tax.

Sweeney, Scutari and company.

Irritated by the almost rotten cabbage-level reception afforded their Path to Progress leader by public sector allies of the governor’s but also bucked up, the same way Murphy’s allies quietly delighted in Norcross overreach,  Sweeney’s allies guffaw at that one.

Egan’s a building trades guy.

If Sweeney – opposed to Murphy’s millionaire’s tax – tells Coughlin to tell Egan no, Egan votes no.

Or so they say.

But a source told InsiderNJ that stories delineating the EDA scandal and the Norcross brain trust’s alleged culpability will intensify by mid June. Coughlin will find himself stumbling amid a blizzard of Norcross-damaging headlines, the source insisted. He’ll have no choice but to cut loose.

“Won’t ever happen,” a Norcross ally insisted.

Coughlin’s law firm is thriving as a consequence of his speakership, freshly stocked with clients connected to the establishment power structure.  Like the Scottish lords in Braveheart, he can only push to a point. Then he has to retreat, the South Jersey-affiliated source insisted.

Coughlin’s the key, Murphy allies argue.

But e also has to worry about caucus members in battleground general election districts like 1 and 2 and 11 and 16 who don’t (or might not) want to vote on a millionaire’s tax in choppy political weather.

Plus, the South Jersey Brain Trust, not Murphy, control the pursue strings for Dems in those districts.

It’s what (Michael Caine accent coming up) could also be referred to as “a problem.”

Immediately, there was too many mangled alliances to make much of pocket progressive movements everywhere, although people would watch Camden to see if Norcross opponents could make county committee cuts to his operation to reveal any kind of weakness.

The machine nestled into itself ahead of Tuesday’s election.

Two weekends ago, Jones and his fellow Essex Democrats convened a Hall of Fame breakfast at Mayfair Farms, where they honored Phil Alagia, chief of staff to Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo.

That plaque, of course, had a political context.

Alagia sits on the board of the Economic Development Authority that approved the Camden tax incentives.

Murphy has asked him and other Christie-appointed board members to resign.

Alagia’s Hall of Fame Induction amounted to a middle finger in response.

Of course, the process to pick him occurred prior to all the political uproar, but it still bore a theatrical sting.

Sweeney with Tammy Murphy in happier times.

Murphy was originally scheduled to attend the breakfast. But one of his allies, Adam Alonso, evidently fell into disfavor with Jones. Word trickled back to the governor’s political people that Murphy could attend the breakfast, but Alonso was not welcome in the vicinity of the event.

Alonso didn’t show.

Neither did Murphy.

The First Lady attended in place of the governor.

Coughlin was there, too.

He’s tight with the organization.

In these times, it was next to impossible to come up with a variation on some inspirational line by someone like, say, Winston Churchill. But Tuesday was a bug on the windshield of a budget, in the throes of an all-levels-of-government scandal, in a fight to the death, amid an investigation, within the cocoon of another round of subpoenas, as Booker ran for president out of New Jersey, on a less-than-enigmatic message of love.

Churchill defined Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,”

 

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