One of the people I most admire from my years in New Jersey politics and government is former State Senator Ray Lesniak, Democrat from Elizabeth. Ray continues to be the Pete Rose of New Jersey politics and government, but without the Pete Rose corruption.
Like Pete Rose, Ray can outhustle anybody. And like Pete Rose, he can play many positions well. Whether as legislative craftsman, State Democratic Party chair, fundraiser for presidential candidates, issues analyst, or television talk show panelist, Ray can play all the roles and play them as well as anybody else.
Yet now that Ray’s career as an elected official is over, his continuing involvement in academia is perhaps his role that I most admire.
The Lesniak Institute for American Leadership, headquartered at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, has the defined mission of developing the next generation of American leaders by teaching the principles of effective advocacy, offering first-hand experience through its causes, and partnering with grassroots organizations. It will long be an outstanding legacy of Raymond Lesniak.
It is indeed an honor to be invited to participate in any of the Lesniak Institute’s programs. So I was delighted when Ray invited me to participate as a panelist at the Institute’s Super Tuesday preview program on Monday, March 2.
I was particularly pleased that my editor at InsiderNJ, Max Pizarro, would serve as moderator of the panel. What I did not know in advance, however, was that this program would hold special significance for me, because this was the night I would meet Larry Hamm.
Larry is a an African -American of the left, while I am of the center-right. No matter. I left that night with the deepest admiration for him.
He was participating as a representative of the Bernie Sanders for President Campaign. Larry had agreed to run in the Democratic primary against incumbent US Senator Cory Booker in order that Bernie Sanders should have a full line on the ballot. He had no expectation of defeating Booker.
The story of Larry Hamm in Newark is well-known: a man who rose from poverty in the city streets to become a Princeton University graduate, then dedicating his life to nonviolent community activism and protest rather than his own financial or political gain.
As I told Max Pizarro on the way home that evening, Larry reminds me of the student protest leaders at my Alma Mater, Northwestern, during the early years of the Nixon administration. I remember those days of unbridled student idealism and the songs of Woodstock, which reflected these ideals, whether one agreed with them or not.
All this made me feel the deepest admiration for Larry Hamm. I need not recount the life, accomplishments, and goodness of Larry – Max Pizarro has done so magnificently in the following column:
What I did not foresee on that night at the Lesniak Institute event was that in the year 2020, Larry Hamm would justifiably attain the status of a venerated legend for his role in keeping the peace in Newark. This was at a time when protest, sometimes violent, engulfed the nation after the brutal police murder of George Floyd.
Working with Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Larry Hamm and his People’s Organization for Progress led the rally in Newark on May 30. It was attended by thousands, five days after the murder of George Floyd. The rally was a model for the nation of peaceful, yet supremely effective protest. That is why I now refer to Newark as “Larry Hamm’s Newark.” The rally was described in detail in the following Max Pizarro column.
Because Larry is so effective, he doubtless will become a target of Donald Trump if he is reelected.
In my column of last Friday, July 24, I explained in detail the factual basis for my description of Donald Trump as both a racist and fascist (https://www.insidernj.com/chris-christie-not-trumpian-enough-ever-win-gop-presidential-nomination/). I also discuss the fascistic role played by what former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge refers to as Trump’s “personal militia.”
The potential of this Trump personal paramilitary militia to foment violence has been displayed most graphically in the recent civil disorders in Portland, Oregon. Thugs in the Trump militia have snatched peaceful protestors off the street, beaten them, and forced them into unmarked vehicles.
Both Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and the renowned Republican strategist and co-founder of the Lincoln Project, Steve Schmidt have referred to the members of the Trump personal militia as “stormtroopers.” Schmidt has taken this description one step further, describing them as “jackbooted thugs.” In the interest of succinctness, I will refer to them simply as “Trump stormtroopers.”
The renowned national opinion columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Will Bunch, has recently authored a Pulitzer-meriting column, “Trump’s made-for-TV fascism in Portland won’t get him reelected. It may get someone killed.”
Read this column closely – in a second Trump term, as Larry Hamm’s Newark becomes a center of peaceful protest against Trump’s racist agenda, Trump would almost certainly send his stormtroopers to invade this African-American city, just as they invaded the white city of Portland. Their goal will be the same: the fomenting of violence to justify further repression of the civil liberties of the protestors.
Oregon Democratic US Senator Ron Wyden has put it very well: “You bet that what is happening in my hometown won’t stop at my hometown,”. Trump has already admitted that he is targeting the Trump Stormtrooper invasions at cities controlled by Democratic-controlled administrations. Given the effectiveness of Larry Hamm and its Democratic status, Newark is a natural Trump stormtrooper early second term target.
The prominence of the issue of Trump’s gross mismanagement of the Coronavirus pandemic makes it virtually impossible for him to legitimately win reelection. So Trump will try to steal it, through a combination of voter suppression, intimidation, and outright ballot stealing. His ability to do so will determine whether Portland’s present becomes Newark’s future.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.