Former Governor Brendan Byrne once told InsiderNJ that the late Jersey City Mayor Thomas F.X. “Tommie” Smith – fit and toned after undergoing a rigorous training regimen – climbed into an exhibition ring with Muhammad Ali with the intent to win a real fight.
But ever after Byrne spoke with admiration of the scrappy, indefatigable mayor, whose political story couldn’t be contained in one town.
Pushed out of a local reelection bid in 1981 to make way for Wally Sheil, Smith instead made an all-advised run for governor. He displayed his trademark determination one night on the Democratic Primary campaign trail as he sought traction against a formidable candidate in U.S. Rep. James Florio of Camden County.
The undaunted former mayor of Jersey City went into enemy territory, making the rounds of South Jersey political events in his unconventional quest for support, which was when he found himself seated at a table in Lower Alloway Township at the annual muskrat dinner.
The Salem County firehouse crowd told the northerner that if he really wanted to be governor of New Jersey he’d eat the muskrat that they put in front of him.
It didn’t help Smith’s campaign. The ex-mayor came in sixth in a field of 13, well behind Florio, who won the nomination with 26% of the vote.
New Jersey Now host Jim McQueeny shared that story with InsiderNJ and others prior to the taping of this weekend’s show, and Chasing New Jersey reporter Brian Donohue noted that Lower Alloway Twp. to this day keeps alive their tradition of the annual muskrat dinner.