BRIDGETON – Hit by a King Kong-sized tsunami in the form of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) pumping money into his district to prop a Republican opponent, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) this morning went to his Godzilla option, summoning Hudson County Senator Brian P. Stack and busloads of 325 Union City campaign volunteers wearing Sweeney t-shirts and door to door game faces.
Sweeney stood downtown on East Commerce Street with his hands on his hips, watching the North Jersey buses roar into the city, one of the poorest in the state, with a large Hispanic population. Stacks’s specialty, Hispanics form about 23% of the district’s total constituency. Stack hopped out of one of the cars that also made the two and a half hour trip from Hudson, along with his usual retinue of street operatives, and grabbed Sweeney and embraced him in a stab at a Hancock-Armistead moment in this closely watched legislative district with less than a month to go before Election Day.
In 2000, Sweeney dethroned Republican incumbent Senator Raymond Zane, who had had held the LD3 senate seat (as a Democrat, until he changed parties) since 1974. Now the GOP wants to switch it back to what it was, with the unlikely helpmate of the NJEA, which is so steamed at Sweeney that it would even team up with factory worker and Chairman of the Salem County GOP Fran Grenier.
Bothered by what she cites as Sweeney’s “serial dishonesty” in partnering with Governor Chris Christie to overhaul public pensions and benefits, President Marie Blistan continues to support the running of hard-hitting ads against the senate president, and will have bodies on the ground in the coming weeks to reinforce the ads. Insiders expect Sweeney to win, but Democratic allies of Sweeney’s lament the NJEA”s decision to pin the senate prez down in a close contest, thereby depriving greater senate majority attention on winnable contests in LD2 and LD11. Blistan said if Democrats were so concerned about the deprivations caused elsewhere by the conflagration here, they needed to have backed another senate president. So in the midst of the mess, Sweeney today brought in Stack, a GOTV animal who’s had his own fights with the NJEA, who in the primary earlier this year busted through his previous personal best in the 33rd District and racked up a vote of 20,000, or nearly double the number of votes registered by his longtime North Hudson rival, state Senator Nick Sacco (D-32).
Stack was a reliable Christie backer through the Republican governor’s tenure and even dumped Assemblyman Ruben Ramos (D-32) as his running mate when Ramos – a teacher – refused to vote in favor of the so-called Christie-Sweeney-Stack backed public pensions and benefits reforms.
There’s no love lost between them and him, but Stack is virtually unbeatable in his district, while Sweeney sweated the Zane victory and has had some close calls over the years in a GOP-friendly region of the state, including just a four-point win in 2009, when Christie beat Jon Corzine – the same year Sweeney nailed down the caucus votes he needed to be senate president.
Shortly after 11:30 a.m., throngs of Stack shock troops gathered in a parking lot on Main Street, ready to receive orders to go canvass in different corners of the district.
“This is important,” said Stack, standing in a ring of allies beside Sweeney. “There’s not many people in your lifetime – and you guys know this – there’s not many people that you can call your friend. Steve Sweeney is our friend. He’s been my friend. He’s always watched my back for me in the senate. Everybody knows in Hudson County how crazy the politics is there. Steve’s always been there standing with me. When people wanted to put the knife in my back, he’s always been there standing with me and helped me when they try to do it to me. He’s a good, good friend, and a great senate president. He’s been great for the state of New Jersey.”
The big show of loving support, coming down here all the way from Hudson – “If it were closer, we’d do it more often,” the Hudson County pol said – in part made up for Stack’s agony as he faced the prospect of having to decide between pal Sweeney and fellow Hudson County Mayor Steve Fulop, when both those allies prepared for 2017 gubernatorial runs. Both backed out when Phil Murphy outmaneuvered them in the Democratic Primary. Now Stack appears closer than ever to both of them, organizing prodigiously in that portion of his own district that includes the Heights section of Jersey City. He backed Fulop’s reelection early.
Sources say his recent effort to eclipse past election organizing performances indicate an “all in “hunger for full control of the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO), currently headed by Sweeney nemesis Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32).
For now, Sweeney just wants a win against Grenier and the NJEA.
“I know this was a long drive for you,” he told the Stackites, “but I want to thank everybody who’s here, especially my friend Brian. Brian is one of my best friends in the senate and is someone I can always count on. When you’re in tough elections, and have millions of dollars spent against you spreading lies, it’s nice to know you have friends. Some run away. very few run forward. Me and Brian have been friends a long time. I know it was a long drive, but this is a community that needs to be spoken to, and it’s going to make the difference in winning our races. So I want to thank you, thank you, thank you.”
A huge roar of support for Sweeney and Stack ensued in the beat down glassworks-stripped Cumberland town bordered to northward by corn fields and dotted in the interior with petroleum tankers, rusted train trestles. McDonalds, and Section Eight towers shouldering over paint-peeling homes with broad porches that once must have looked genteel but now make only an impression of hollowed out, poverty-stricken grimness. Farther north on Route 77 lies the little town of Mullica Hill. If there was any doubt about Sweeney’s finger prints on the places, a highway here bears his name, as his allies try to make the case that the senate prez turned teepees into Home Depots and churches converted to Karate dojos.
Sweeney was the picture of relaxed humility in his headquarters prior to Stack arrivi9ng, where a pair of volunteers played ping pong and former Senate Majority ED Kevin Drennan played the role of sturdy sergeant at-arms.
Sweeney denied he was overcome by a feverish focus on the Nov. 7th numbers or even too concerned with Grenier.
“Peaches,” he said. “Peaches and dirt. That’s what I’m interested in.”
With California and Georgia less than robust producers this year, South Jersey had a better than average showing.
“That’s really what I’m into,” said the senate president, and then the buses pulled up, and kept coming, one after another, like the Rolling Stones and their entourage were coming in to play Bridgeton, the drivers nodding to the clump of South Jerseyans that materialized on the sidewalk opposite Sweeney’s headquarters.
If Stack had any worry about perennial Republican candidate Beth Hamburger from Hoboken launching a sneak attack in his day-long absence from the 33rd District, it didn’t show as he crossed the street looking like he was ready to go absolutely nuts as he fell into an embrace with Sweeney.
A half an hour later, his people had leaflets, were on foot, and hitting doors.
- Beth Hamburger
- Brian Stack
- Chris Christie
- Cumberland County
- Cumberland County Democrats
- Fran Grenier
- Gloucester County Democrats
- Hudson County Democrats
- Jon Corzine
- Kevin Drennan
- Nick Sacco
- Ray Zane
- Steve Fulop
- Steve Sweeney
- Vincent Prieto
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