Phantom Mailer Seeks to Depress Gopal Turnout

Like everybody else in Monmouth County’s 11th state legislative district I have been inundated with slick campaign mailers from incumbent Sen. Vin Gopal (D) and his Republican opponent Steve Dnistrian (R) that I have reflexively recycled.

There’s also been mailings from interlopers hoping to put their fat anonymous thumb on the electoral scale by making some outrageous claim nobody has the time to run to ground that we are assured was ‘not coordinated with anyone of the candidates.’

I am already deeply suspect of both of New Jersey’s two major political parties and the fact that $8.8 million here in the 11th has been spent in a campaign for a job that only pays $49,000 a year doesn’t help.

There was one flyer that I had to hold onto because it seemed particularly pernicious and required closer examination as to its provenance.

Its purpose I suspect was not to get me to vote for Dnistirian, whose name was nowhere on it. It was intended to discourage me NOT to turn out in my heavily Democratic district in Neptune Township, that’s close to a third African American and historically essential to a Gopal win.

The  9 X 12 heavy stock color placard had the notorious Jan. 6 photo on it of an insurrectionist carrying the  “Stars & Bars” battle flag of the Confederacy, also known as the “Southern Cross”, into the U.S. Capitol. The flyer attempted to link Gopal, that it described as a  “so-called progressive Democrat,”  with 101.5 FM “far-right radio shock jock” Bill Spadea, a Trump acolyte, intimating that the two men were in some sort of nefarious alliance.

“Spadea said calling January 6th an insurrection was ‘absurd’ and ‘inaccurate’-and even blamed the violence that occurred on the police!” proclaimed the mysterious mailer from something called Strengthen Our State, Inc. located in Suite 112 2360 Route 33, Robbinsville, New Jersey.

Right below that it stated, “This so-called progressive Democrat Vin Gopal called Spadea’s dangerous rhetoric ‘healthy for democracy’ and hosted a joint event right here in Monmouth County.”

On the flipside, the flyer declared “Vin Gopal spent the last year cozying up to MAGA Republicans . Now he’s in a tough campaign and wants your vote to save his political career. Is he worth saving? You decide.”

There are two microscopic foot notes on the phantom mailer referencing a Spadea 101.5 FM broadcast on Jan. 12, 2021, and a Politico story by Matt Friedman from Jan. 31st  headlined “Meeting featuring Democratic state senator, far right radio host raises eyebrows.”

“New Jersey Democratic state Sen. Vin Gopal hosted a get-together Monday evening with far-right radio personality Bill Spadea and others in Asbury Park, a meeting between unlikely alliances that has raised eyebrows in Monmouth County political circles,” Politico’s Friedman reported earlier this year.

According to Friedman “the event, at R BAR in Asbury Park, was an informal gathering with people across political lines, something Gopal (D-Monmouth) said he has done on numerous occasions.”

“I invite people from different political mindsets, and it’s always healthy for democracy when people are able to have a drink and chat about different issues. That’s what we did last night,” Gopal told Politico. Gopal volunteered that “state Sen. Bob Singer (R-Ocean) was also there along with 30 or 40 other guests, mostly police chiefs and veterans.”

That must have been where our mysterious correspondents from Robbinsville snatched the Gopal “healthy for democracy” quote from.

“Bill Spadea and I agree on very little when it comes to big political issues, but it doesn’t mean we can’t talk and have a relationship and find common ground,” Gopal told Politico.

Friedman recounted that Spadea “spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and vaccines and has repeated pro-Russia talking points after its invasion of Ukraine” as well as emceed a New York Young Republicans event “whose attendees included white nationalists.”

That was the same soiree  he reminds us at which “Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said that if Steve Bannon, another Trump loyalist, had planned the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, ‘we would have won, not to mention we would’ve been armed.’”

No doubt, if your choice of candidate doesn’t have the inclination nor capability to convince voters like the folks in a Democratic town like Neptune Township, almost 47 percent of whom are Black, Latino or Asian, to vote for your man, you might as well do your best to turn them off to voting at all.  It’s best of course to not leave any fingerprints when you are degrading democracy like that.

Thanks to essential reporting by NorthJersey.com’s Ashley Balcezak, I was able to get some background on Strengthen Our State, Inc.

“Strengthen Our State spent more than $200,000 on the 11th District backing Republican candidates Stephen Dnistrian for state Senate and Marilyn Piperno and Assemblywoman Kim Eulner for Assembly and opposing Democratic state Sen. Vin Gopal,” reported Balcezak.

“According to March 2022 incorporation documents, the group’s board members are Robert Delcalzo, owner of Equity Real Estate Valuation & Advisory; attorney Brian Heun; and Vincent Maffucci, managing partner at Cadia Private Client, an investment management firm. Staci Goede of Sage Advisory Group is treasurer. Republican strategist Stacy Schuster serves as executive director,” according to NorthJersey.com.

Balcezak reported the key donors behind the independent expenditure group include Bob Hugin: $400,000; Alan Fournier, founder, and chief investment officer of Summit-based investment firm Pennant Advisors LLC: $300,000; and  Samuel Cole, co-founder of private equity investment management firm Stonecutter Ventures: $50,000.

“That is certainly a voter discouragement technique. But it is not a typical one,” said Peter Woolley, director of the School of Public and Global Affairs at Fairleigh Dickinson University, who was shown the flyer. “You have a campaign reaching across the aisle to accuse the opponent of agreeing with powerful voices in one’s party!”

As it turns out, Strengthen Our State, is just one of 22 independent political expenditure groups active this election season that have “already have pumped more than $17 million into the election,” according to a press release from the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. “That sum already is the second most by independent spenders in a New Jersey legislative election except for 2017, when outlays by these so-called ‘outside’ groups topped $27 million.”

According to NJ ELEC, the 11th LD is one of a seven so-called “battleground” [16,4,38,3,2, and 8] districts where 22 of these political action groups have dumped “at least $500,000 in independent spending.” That’s infused an additional $10 million into these  “swing” district campaigns above and beyond the $20 million plus spent by the candidates, for a grand total in excess of $32 million.

It remains to be seen how good an investment “Stars & Bars” Spadea / Gopal voter mailer was in my town that gave President Obama big numbers in 2008 and 2012 as well as President Biden in 2020.

In 2021 in the 11th,  under Gov. Murphy’s banner, Gopal won but his Assembly running mates lost as did the Governor. In Neptune, Gopal got 6,195 to his GOP opponent Lori Annetta’s 3,627. It was that enthusiasm in Neptune that gave the incumbent Democrat  his 2,500 vote margin of victory.

That year, with the Gubernatorial contest at the top of the ballot, only 71,274 voters turned out of the 160,320 that were registered in the 11th.  Statewide, where Murphy prevailed, just 40 percent of registered voters turned out, ranking it one of the lowest turnouts for a gubernatorial election in decades.

Historically, elections where only the state legislature is up are even lower turnout contests  . In 2019, 27 percent of voters came out, just a five percent improvement over the 22 percent recorded in 2015, the lowest in state history.

Sometimes in New Jersey it feels like the more money that’s spent on campaigns, the lower the turnout.

Oh, by the way, the guy who charged into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 with the Confederate flag was sentenced to three years in prison. At his sentencing, the judge took him to task for using the flag to attack a Black U.S. Capitol Police officer during the confrontation in the U.S. Capitol, NBC reported.

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