JERSEY CITY – At first, the Casino in the Park event had the feel of a lazy, landscaped watering hole for grazing, grass-fatted political animals more than a rallying point for real world human energy, but then all Phil Murphy has to do is have Brian Stack, Nick Sacco, Joe D. and Leroy Jones ride herd on their respective bases to corral, tag and brand the general election.
Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) made the case for more.
“This is the engine that turns our budget,” he said. “A lot of revenue comes in from Jersey City.”
Not that the town hall function lacked curious storylines, among them the undeniable enigmas conjured out of the visual of Murphy and Mayor Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop test-driving each other’s public presence, apparently in the eventuality of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) getting upended on corruption charges; or maybe in the case of Fulop ultimately primarying Murphy if the likely Democratic Governor stumbles on the job.
For now, that was all speculative at best, little more than concocted intrigue, as Republican sources delighted in what to this point they identify as a less than energized Murphy candidacy, hampered by his millionaire tax hike pledge, which Kim Guadagno and the GOP have twisted into daylight even as they attempt to disentangle themselves from a dismally 16% job approval encumbered Gov. Chris Christie. Whether or not a Christie-saddled Guadagno can ride the anti-taxes argument to a convincing finish, even Democrats – in those suburban, opportunity-rich districts – have early feared Murphy world’s lack of fizz.
Prior to the town hall in Jersey City, InsiderNJ trooped up the narrow stairs to a lair occupied by a known operative wearing a Burger King headset that presumably patched him in to some constantly-feeding hyper-oxygenated underling. “The trouble with Murphy is that the campaign shows no signs of turning into an enormous coattail opportunity for battleground district Democrats,” said the source. “The Guadagno Campaign is such a loser, what with Christie’s approval rating and Trump hardly helping, you’d figure Murphy should be walking through it, but it’s not happening. She’s hanging around. Why?”
Euphoric over the tax debate developing around the governor’s race and insistent that Guadagno continue to take advantage, a Republican in precisely one of those split districts agreed. “Murphy made a big mistake when he opted out of public financing for the general,” said the GOP source. “He’s struggling against a non-factor.”
The Murphy Campaign?
“No energy,” the GOP source said. “My Democrat friends tell me all the time.”
But if Republicans are eager to assess Murphy town hall events like tonight’s theater in the round at the Casino as little more than spiritual stagnation wrapped in colorful wallpapered and carpeted environs, machine politics as a forceful mode of human expression nonetheless penetrated and dominated. Passaic looked anemic a week ago by comparison, tonight, one would never know that Hudson is home to a corruption trial-hobbled U.S. Senator and a speaker on ice.
It looked like muscle shirted beat-down central, as a Murphy-friendly but also politically self-interested Fulop – himself up for reelection citywide on Nov. 7th – led a canvassing team through the streets of Jersey City that ended up at Casino in the Park, the mayor jacket-less at the head of his army with shirt sleeves rolled up on the same day he launched his first ad of the mayoral season.
The developing – and finally standing room only – crowd in a county that generated 32,084 votes for Murphy in the Democratic Primary, second only to the 35,779 vote-totaling Essex among all counties – put springs in the steps of those same operatives who in Paterson had seemed to grin through agony.
They turned out.
The bar helped, maybe.
Having one here didn’t hurt, to be sure.
It commanded a jocular crowd throughout the town hall event.
Hudson Freeholder (and Clerk candidate) Junior Maldonado worked the room. Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise worked the room. Jersey City Councilman Danny Rivera worked the room. Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis worked the room. Everyone worked the room. Nods of affirmation passed among those suited and high heeled bottom feeders who are ultimately responsible for packing the bodies and establishing the footing at operations like this one. Senator Sandy Cunningham. Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill. Jersey City Councilwoman Joyce Waterman. Councilman Rolando Lavarro. Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer.
Assemblywoman Angela McKnight.
Assemblyman Nick Chiaravalloti.
Hudson Freeholder (and Hoboken mayoral candidate) Anthony Romano.
Governor Jim McGreevy beamed happiness among fans.
Speaker Prieto strode in and jawed pleasantly with Tammy Murphy.
When it came time for speaking parts, the change a comin’ message rose from an unusual source.
“I believe there is a change coming for the state of New Jersey,” said a voice-quaking Cunningham, a reliable cross-the-aisle Christie vote for the last eight years.
But finally it was one-time gubernatorial rivals turned somewhat shaky yet necessary political allies Fulop and Murphy intrigue generating and regenerating in the big room.
“Tonight is important,” said Fulop, apparently ignoring his own local rival in the mayor’s race Bill Matsikoudis sitting in the front row as he gave Murphy his full attention. “If you have question, ask him. One thing about Phil is he’s going to tell you honestly what he can and can’t do. Ask those hard questions because we need you out there on Nov. 7th working hard on his behalf.”
The 60-year old Murphy was soon shucking his jacket and hyperkinetically eating up every inch of carpet in the squared space surrounded by enthusiastic supporters. “I appreciate enormously his friendship and his support,” the Democratic nominee for governor said of Fulop before exhorting McGreevy to take a bow, and then slapping away at President Donald J. Trump.
“God knows what he’d do,” said the Democratic candidate for governor, when he wondered aloud about the DACA-revoking president’s reaction to the roomful of diversity on display tonight.
With huge attendance on display in Hudson tonight, just how deep Murphy permeates seems almost like a moot point. Just before the place packed, a ballcapped emergency personnel in a Humvee with speaker-amplified voice yelled at a woman speed-walking through the park and indicated the Casino in the Park at her back. “You going to the Murphy event?”
“Hell no,” was the reply, the stride bearing her quickly away from the political destination.
“Politicians are all alike,” she explained.
Again, it was Prieto whose opinion differed, and the crowd conformed.
Maybe this was why Murphy had been loathe to kick the corruption trial embattled U.S. Senator Bob Menendez while he was down at the urging of Guadagno. While some suburbanites may squirm through the trial, Hudson Democrats appeared rock solid behind him on this night.
“We always run scared, because we want to make sure we win. With you behind us, that’s going to give us an edge,” the lame duck speaker said to claps and shouts of hoorah, making sure to point out that he was quoting words of wisdom from the Hudson County-conceived Menendez, who always told politicians here to campaign with their backs to the wall. As for the leafy battleground district handwringing about the gubernatorial campaign – it didn’t seem to matter too much to this crowd, where a Murphy speech heavily sprinkled with social issues on full volume excited his audience. When he denounced Guadagno’s relative silence on the Parker Space Confederate Flag issue, they embraced him.
“It will be easier to have someone who understands cities,” explained DeGise, indicating a broadly grinning Murphy. “The Christie-Guadagno administration has shown nothing but benign neglect.”
“If nothing else, they know how to get the crowd out in Jersey City,” Murphy gushed, throwing multiple loose sustained elbows at Christie and Trump.
If this was supposed to be a flat-on-its-back county alongside the ascendant Middlesex, it looked good; and Stack – who generated an unheard of 20,000 votes district-wide in the June Democratic Primary – wasn’t even around, characteristically playing the part of off-the-reservation loner, even as he swore homage from afar to the surging Murphy, having backed both Murphy and Fulop, and pledged to deliver an army of his own to the Hudson streets come Nov. 7th.