ASBURY PARK – If New Jersey itself arguably epitomizes bad taste, the utterly unglamorous nature of life here makes balls and galas not inevitable but welcome, as that last means left by which to nobly prove otherwise the state’s dreadful aesthetic fortunes.
On Friday night, that task fell on the shoulders of Garden State Equality, which held its annual gala event at the Asbury Hotel, in view of the bonfire blazing beach, in part to stem any been-to-the-mountaintop complacency in the same state that passed marriage equality. “There is nurturing left to do done – and educating,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) told InsiderNJ as she made her way in to the gala, her hand clutching the proffered arm of Horzion’s Bill Castner.
At a good-energy, well attended event, lawmakers and their attendants and a train of perpetual VIPs made their way into the Asbury, among them Democratic candidate state Senator Ray Lesniak, Republican candidate Kim Guadagno, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6), state Senator Jennifer Beck (R-11), state Senator Joe Vitale (D-19), former Governor Jim McGreevey, former U.S. Senator Bob Torricelli, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15), Assemblyman Troy Singleton (D-7), Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-38), assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (D-11), Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-11), Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian, Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty, Passaic County GOP Chairman John Traier, Kivvit hotshots Maggie Moran, Laura Matos and Chris Donnelly, InsiderNj columnist Jay Lassiter, and many others.
“We a lot of gaps in our community we need to close,” Garden State Equality Executive Director Christian Fuscarino. “Our community shouldn’t have to travel into New York City or Philadelphia to find the care and resources they need. The majority of our work is happening in neighborhoods, schools, hospitals.”
InsiderNJ asked Fuscarino about the presence of a Republican gubernatorial candidate in the room and what it says about the strides his organization made over the past decade. “I think no matter who is elected the next governor, Garden State Equality for the first time is going to have a true ally in the governor’s office,” he said.
What about Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-16)?
“He’s been to our events,” Fuscarino said. “With that said, neither Kim nor Jack has provided Garden State Equality with a round table.”
The drama of LD11 overrode the gubernatorial contest, however, as the packed room pushed Beck and her Democratic rival Vin Gopal into close quarters.
There was icy contact between the two gladiatorial contestants.
“Hello, senator, how are you?” Gopal said, receiving Beck’s hand.
The moment hovered near the edge of mystery.
Then Belmar Mayor Doherty quickly assumed the role of human barricade to keep the two focal pointed candidates separated amid the swarm of party revelers.
Beck’s Asbury Park-serving predecessor, former state Senator Sean Kean (R-11), weathered a horrendous beating from Garden State Equality for registering a no vote on gay marriage, and Beck’s Republican friendliness signaled new-era optics.
But she also once voted no, prior to 2011 redistricting that deposited her in Asbury Park.
“Gopal and Beck are both working hard to show the LGBT community they are supportive,” Fuscarino told InsiderNJ. “Unfortunately for Beck, our community won’t easily forget she voted against marriage equality before eventually coming around in favor.”
Gusciora applauded the presence of GOP players at the gala.
“There is a recognition by Republicans that there is a significant gay population in the state, and I applaud Kim Guadagno, Jen Beck, as well as John Traier,” said the state’s first openly gay state lawmaker. “I want to encourage others. It’s a shame more of the Republican continue to ignore the LGBT community. Garden State Equality is still a significant organization, and will a formidable stakeholder in the next two elections – both the primary and the general. There is still work to be done in the area of transgender protections. And bullying is very much a presence in the schools. The lieutenant governor also mentioned AIDS and health concerns. Garden State Equality will be there as a critical voice.”