JERSEY CITY – The revitalized waterfront with its bustling streets and high-end hotels is quite a ways away – figuratively speaking – from a seedy stretch of Martin Luther King Drive in the city’s Greenville section.
But it was a Dominican restaurant – El Sabor del Cafe at 31 MLK Drive – that hosted Jim McGreevey’s mayoral launch Thursday morning.
Yes, McGreevey said he likes the food, but it’s more than that – much more. The owner of the restaurant, who served more than 20 years in federal prison, said it was McGreevey’s New Jersey Reentry Corporation that helped his transformation from inmate to restaurateur.
In other words, McGreevey’s program aiding inmates ease back into society gave him a second chance.
The symbolism was real.
McGreevey, a one-time governor who resigned amid scandal, wants a second chance as well. That would be running the city where he was born 66 years ago.
“Clearly, I made mistakes, which, you know, I acknowledged and apologized (for),” he said.
It was in August, 2004, when McGreevey declared himself to be a “gay American” and resigned as governor after he was threatened with a sexual harassment suit from a man, Golan Cipel, to whom he had given a high-paying state job regarding homeland security.
Afterwards, McGreevey studied to become an Episcopal priest and became involved in a genuine Christian mission – helping inmates turn their lives around.
So, how does that mesh with Hudson County’s acrimonious politics?
McGreevey spent part of his speech talking about some of his accomplishments as governor. They included improving the E-Z Pass system and Motor Vehicle Commission, signing the Highlands Act, which has preserved acres of open land in northwest New Jersey, and promoting literacy for third graders.
As for Jersey City, some of his goals were basic – good schools, clean streets, cracking down on traffic violators and in general, a fine quality of life.
“There can be nothing more basic than the safety and security of every citizen,” he said.
He added, “What I see in this great city is an opportunity.”
That sounds like a standard candidate’s line, but it’s also a challenge.
As mentioned, Jersey City’s downtown entertainment district is worlds apart from some of its older neighborhoods – like the one McGreevey was in today.
He said Jersey City is “one city,” but making that happen is harder than simply saying it.
To that end, I asked a guy watching the proceedings from across the street about McGreevey. He said McGreevey does come around the neighborhood every so often, but that so much of the city greatly differs from the waterfront.
It will be interesting to see how the race develops as more hopefuls get in. Another candidate, Freeholder Bill O’Dea, plans a kickoff announcement on Nov. 18
Befitting a man who sought divine guidance after resigning as governor, McGreevey’s kickoff address included a number of philosophical musings.
He spoke of himself as a man no longer walking uphill.
“I’m walking down the hill,” he said, adding with a laugh that he was doing it “slowly.”
As for next year’s mayoral election, McGreevey said, “This election is not about yesterday, it’s about tomorrows.”
Still, going from governor to a mayor, albeit with about two decades in between, seems like a step down. But McGreevey said he’s convinced that many of society’s problems can be solved only by government and he has the experience and know-how to do it.
In typical political fashion, dozens of supporters crammed into the eatery for McGreevey’s announcement; some had to stand outside.
Inside, one saw an eclectic group of politicos. They included Steve Sweeney, the former Senate President, Andre Sayegh, the mayor of Paterson, and Bill Baroni, a former Republican legislator who got caught up in the “Bridgegate scandal. Also on hand were such local mayors as Jimmy Davis of Bayonne and Union City’s Brian Stack, a big McGreevey booster.
During the invocation for today’s event, a local minister sought God’s blessing, but warned that there may be “bad boys” out there.
Actually, the “bad boys” are already around.
A flyer found on the street a block away trashed McGreevey’s past deeds and said he does not possess the character needed to run Jersey City.
That’s probably only the beginning.