The Menendez Hung Trial News Divides the Thinning Backrooms of Atlantic City

ATLANTIC CITY – The League sputtered to a conclusion with Menendez hung jury news overshadowing the hangovers.

“I knew from the beginning the case was bogus,” Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage told InsiderNJ in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel.

“They should have left him alone,” he added. “It was all because of Cuba and the Iran nuclear deal when he chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

State Senator Paul Sarlo (D-36) nodded in stern agreement.

“Our senior senator is still alive, and respected around the world, not just in the United States,” said powerful Essex County Democratic Chairman Leroy Jones. “The fact that ten of the jurors could see no smoking gun bodes well for the jury system here. The fact that there wasn’t a unanimous verdict – one way or the other – to try to come back and retry him would appear to be a witch hunt. Hopefully the feds recognize that. Right now, I’m staunchly in his corner for reelection. The rest of the county, I’m sure, will be following my lead.”

The judge’s declaration of a mistrial was not even an hour old when Bollwage reacted, and Governor-elect Phil Murphy had already affirmed his endorsement of Menendez should the senior senator want another crack at his seat.

“I never believed the 12 people would convict, given the long-standing friendship and the need for the government to prove a corrupt motive beyond a reasonable doubt,” said veteran defense attorney Joe Hayden, from the beginning a stout Menendez defender.

But against a backdrop of an upside down job approval rating for Menendez, not everyone affirmed a happy ending – as in, he will absolutely run for office again – for the boss who came of political age as a Bill Musto underling turned bulletproof vest-wearing tough guy. “Bob dodged a bullet today,” said a source, referring to the hung jury news. “He’ll want to go back to his family. He’s got a grandchild now.”

What the rest of the world equates as happy is viewed as sheer drudgery in political circles.

The attempt at spin seemed wholly artificial and hopeless, part of that concoction of unseeing ambition that sprang up in several corners of the state during Menendez’s bleakest moments and which today received pause. Menendez, after all, by the reckoning of his friends and foes alike, for years appeared to have little life beyond the pure hard edge of politics; and even the source backed away from his essential argument when confronted with the preposterous image of a man who was once – not too long ago – one of the most powerful senators in the country now taking full satisfaction in bouncing a child on his knee. Still, the source – despite himself – persisted, and on this next front at least seemed to have a better case. If nothing else, last week’s election proved that a real opportunity exists for Democrats in the aftermath of Chris Christie combined with an up-swell of backlash anger aimed at President Donald J. Trump. Would Murphy and Democrats really allow Menendez to go forward as the statewide incumbent who narrowly avoided jail, and impair the chances of U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5), CD11 challenger Mikie Sherrill, that Democrat (be it Linda Weber, Lisa Mandelblatt or Tom Malinowski) challenging U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7), or state Senator Jeff Van Drew (D-1), who is expected to take a run at the seat vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo?

It was a good day for Hudson, one North Jersey source said jubilantly.

“Hudson has its godfather back,” he added, while InsiderNJ attempts to get the opinions of some of those personages who will run next year in districtwide contests proved fruitless early Thursday evening.

Menendez was the overlord of Hudson County, but would those swathes of untilled Democratic countryside occupied by a Sherrill or Mandleblatt want the padlock of Menendez at the top of the ticket as they yearn to make Trump agony the story of the cycle?

Conquered by Murphy in this year’s gubernatorial primary, Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19) strode the halls of the seaside gambling mecca amid statewide whispers of alternative iconography. Former U.S. Senator Bob Torricelli had said all along that he would not run against that U.S. Senate candidate backed by Murphy. That person is Menendez.

So Torricelli won’t run.


As for average voters:

“I think when people understand Menendez has had his day, the jury spoke loudly, that will change people’s minds,” said Jones. “There’s no doubt about his level of passion for service and his effectiveness as a senator. It’s similar to the dynamics of Joe D’s election: results. Mikie and Josh have to understand, we have to support the entire Democratic line, and I don’t think the winds point to anything other than our victory. I’ll be fully charged.”

A Hudson source insisted on waxing historical.

“It’s like when Tsar Alexander II survived an assassination attempt in 1866. He’ll be welcomed back with open arms and become even stronger,” he said, in reference to Menendez, wholly dismissive of other candidates and emergent candidates.

Menendez returned would have no equal among energies elsewhere.

But would Murphy – who came to power not on northern machines alone but on the contributing efforts of suburban counties like Middlesex and Monmouth and Somerset – simply acquiesce to Menendez, or attempt to drive other pockets of power reflective of distributed party influence, and expressed arguably in this last election by the hitherto untapped spirit of someone like retired HBO executive Shelley Brindle, who snagged a mayoral seat in Westfield on the strength of Trump agony? Would anything less than a hard look at another direction give the GOP life where, at the League at least, none, for the moment, existed?

Perhaps not.

Murphy’s trouncing of Kim Guadagno was thorough, his pave over of her sanctuary state argument decisive.

“Menendez will walk away, for the good of the party, for the good of some of these other people who won’t want that encumbrance at the top of the ticket,” tried one source in Atlantic City, someone from Somerset. “He’ll be seen as a hero if he does that.”

It seemed not to be the Hudson way, where heroes are forged from power, or are subservient to power, and the rest of the state is either a step behind or politically weaker – or simply comes to understand, incrementally and by small hard degrees, the meaning of tough justice; even as Menendez appeared, as never before publicly, to recognize the reinforcing power not just of politics, but of family.


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