Hugin Again Goes Back to Union City

Bob Hugin always likes to go back to Union City, but it’s even more fun when he’s there to get endorsed by a group that previously backed Bob Menendez.

That was the case Friday when the political action committee of the Latino Leadership Alliance backed Hugin during an upbeat event at the Mi Bandera restaurant on 32nd. Street.

Nestor Montilla Sr., the group’s president, said the organization had endorsed Menendez in previous elections, but that this time around, the senator didn’t seek their support.

It may not have mattered, judging from Montilla’s effusive introduction of Hugin, who, like Menendez, grew up in Union City.

Montilla extolled Hugin’s views on health care, immigration and education, noting that the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate often disagrees with Republican President Donald Trump.

That may seem a peculiar way to give an endorsement, but it’s right in step with Hugin’s campaign.

Remember that during this week’s debate, Hugin boldly proclaimed that he is “not” a Trump-Republican.

He continued in that vein on Friday, saying that if Trump does something foolish or something to hurt New Jersey,  “I promise you, I will stand up to Donald Trump.”

There is some logic here.

First of all, Hugin is not a seasoned politician, so his views may be his own, as opposed to being battle-tested over the years by a cadre of consultants.

Moreover, Trump’s approval rating in the state is less than 40 percent in recent polls, so it makes sense to keep your distance. Also, Hugin certainly realizes that in a hyper-partisan environment, convincing voters you are capable of independent thought can be a very good thing.

The candidate continued along those lines when he said, “I’m not a product of any political party.”

That presents a legitimate contrast with Menendez whose political career has spanned more than 40 years.

However, Hugin may not be a career politician, but he is the candidate of the Republican party, which is something he achieved by getting support from party leaders throughout the state before the June primary.  Ignoring that is a little disingenuous.

Montilla said Hugin impressed the alliance in a recent interview as a man who “genuinely … has the interests of New Jerseyans at heart.”

A handful of other speakers stressed Hugin’s “decency,” and  “honesty,” a not too subtle reference to Menendez’ well-publicized ethical problems.

The alliance prides itself on backing candidates regardless of party or ethnic background as long as they support Latino concerns. There are nearly 2 million New Jersey residents of Hispanic heritage, according to the alliance.

The record seems to bear that out. In previous elections, the group backed Democrat Phil Murphy and Republican Chris Christie for governor. And in this case, it’s backing Hugin instead of Menendez, a fellow Latino. They have had a poor record this year, having supported Alex Mende in Paterson (who lost to Mayor Andre Sayegh) and Paul Perez in Trenton (who lost to Mayor Reed Gusciora).

The Mi Bandera restaurant is on the site of Union City’s old Lincoln Theater. In fact the winding staircase leading to the second floor (the balcony in those days of yesteryear) is still in use.

Eying the curtain of this campaign, Hugin pledged to work hard over the next “12 days.”

There are actually 11 days until Nov. 6, but Hugin also counts Election Day.

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