The Scene Under the Scene: InsiderNJ Power Party Draws Eclectic Crowd of Revelers, Hopefuls, and Unreconstructed Gamers

ATLANTIC CITY – Cuba Libre at the Trop looked like the kind of place Hemingway would have liked, what with the vintage car out front, those palm fronds pulling you in, a Fulgencio Batista-sized balcony and balustrade tucked in the back, and up front the long, shiny bar, which last night reflected the rogues gallery faces of numerous New Jersey political personages.

A lot of slurring of words could be heard as insiders – many of them live figures of the numbers represented in this Insider 100 list – tried to make sense of what happened in their home state last week and in the process drove themselves further into unintelligibility.

But most of it was clear cut enough. Republicans looked like they had taken one too many hard punches to their jaws. A few of them still couldn’t believe Governor-elect Phil Murphy could win by 13 – maybe 14 points – on a message of raising $1.3 billion in new taxes. “Is it me?” one of them said to InsiderNJ, tugging incredulously at loose shoulder fabric. “Is it me? No really, is it me?”

Democrats, by contrast, looked primed for self-implosion.

If any Republican showed up in a good mood, he did while simultaneously gleaming Machiavellian mischief and nursing the expectation that Murphy and Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) would fumble away the state and give birth to the next version of Chris Christie. It was Christie in 2009, of course, who seized advantage of fractures in the Democratic Party and eked out a tough cop Republican ticket alternative. The idea was so pervasive, in both parties, that one person, sweaty and drunk at the bar, said, “What’s he doing?” The “he” in this case referred to Attorney General Chris Porrino, and his headline-generating activities over the past months, sparking speculation about his possible play for the as-yet unfilled job of U.S. Attorney and a rebuilt runway to Drumthwacket on the Christie model.

In the meantime, Democrats reveled in a sea of ruptured connections.

“He’s running again, and so is Lizette,” a source said as Democratic State Committee Chairman John Currie – with an entourage – passed in the crowded room, and a few minutes late Vice Chair Lizette Delgado Polanco could be seen at the side of John Ballantyne, head of the NJ Carpenters.

Currie, it is safe to say, would not be the first choice of Sweeney – with whom he’s fought for a year – but he’s Murphy’s choice.

It’s an issue.

In another conversation, a source calmly laid out how it could be resolved.

“Currie gets the chairmanship again, and [in his capacity as Passaic County Democratic Chairman, along with ally Bergen County Democratic Chair Lou Stellato] backs Donald [U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross of South Jersey] for U.S. Senate, if Bob [Senator Bob Menendez] goes down,” the source said. “In exchange for Donald getting the senate nod, Steve [Sweeney] takes a powder as senate president.”

But what would Sweeney get out of the arrangement, InsiderNJ pressed.

“Maybe the congressional seat,” the source shrugged, nibbling on a straw at the bar.

No. It wouldn’t be enough for Sweeney. The talk was always some big national labor position. But why should Sweeney, in the prime of his political powers, settle for such consolation prizes?

“You’re thinking like someone from North Jersey,” the source said. “This is South Jersey. People here play on a team.”

Speaking of that team, Atlantic City Mayor-elect Frank Gilliam appeared with an entourage. “Door knocking,” he told InsiderNJ, when asked how he won the mayor’s race against incumbent Don Guardian. “Well, that and he had also irritated a lot of people.”

InsiderNJ had earlier seen Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-21) in the lobby of Caesar’s with Guardian.

Other people at the party included Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37), holding court at the bar and finalizing the details of her annual power list, which can be found here. Senator M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) and her husband, Newark North Ward Democratic Chairman Sammy Gonzalez, and Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6) appeared. SEIU 32BJ labor leaders Kevin Brown and Julie Diaz operated. Booker State Director George Helmy moved and grooved. Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac moved and grooved. So did Senator Kip Bateman (R-16) and Senator Nellie Pou (D-35). Silver Strategies shark Adam Silverstein hobnobbed. So did Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin and Democratic State Committeeman Tom Barrett. So did Union County GOP Chairman Glenn Mortimer and Essex County GOP Chair Al Barlas. Senator-elect Troy Singleton (D-7), Assemblyman Raj Mukerji (D-33), Hoboken Mayor-elect Ravi Bhalla, and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15) were in the room, as was Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-20), Assemblyman-elect Chris DeFillips (R-40), and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37).

Garden State Equality Executive Director Christian Fuscarino was in the room.

So was Sierra Club boss Jeff Tittel.

So was Passaic County Freeholder Assad Akhter.

So was Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-7).

Newly victorious Somerset County Freeholder Brian Levine mingled.

Assemblywoman Eliana Pintor Marin (D-29) entered to some fanfare.

Greenwald and Pintor Marin formed half of the assembly’s refashioned leadership team, with the former reinstalled as the Democratic caucus’ number two and the latter succeeding Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) as budget chair. Pintor Marin made the rounds in the company of East Ward Democratic stalwart Joe Parlavecchio. Greenwald minder Mickey Quinn surfaced.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop showed up with a group of retainers that included COS Mark Albiez, Communications Chief Jennifer Morrill and aide Hannah Peterson. “You should have run for governor,” someone blithered drunkenly in Fulop’s direction. He maintained a stately forbearance. Hours later, the mayor would be seen having coffee with Murphy Campaign Manager Brendan Gill in the Metropolitan. Gill, it should be recalled, two years ago allowed the mayor to feel him out on advising a gubernatorial bid prior to going to Murphy.

Amid the likes of former Assemblyman Guy Gregg, Kaufman Zita power player Trish Zita, Paterson Councilman Andre Sayegh, and Hudson County Democratic Organization ED Craig Guy, another circulating presence caught some attention: Tom Malinowski, the former assistant secretary of state and a Democrat running for Congress in the 7th District. An intellect being squired around by Edison Democratic Chairman Shariq Ahamad, Malinowski in an atmospherically lit room looks like a walking daguerreotype of the kinds of political personalities who also settled the frontier. If he failed to land the role of Abe Lincoln in an off-Broadway production of America in the 19th Century, he could certainly play Davey Crockett or Henry Clay.

Chest-thumping Central Jersey strength in a year when Monmouth County snagged 79,000 votes for Murphy, fifth overall among the state’s 21 counties (behind Essex 121,000 and change; Bergen 121,000; Middlesex 99,000; and Hudson 81,000), suburbanites like Westfield Mayor-elect Shelley Brindle (from Union, a 72.5K vote producer for Murphy) and Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-11) worked the room. So did Somerset County Democratic Chair Peg Schaffer and Vice Chair Zenon Christodoulou. So did Princeton Public Affairs operative Christina Zuk.

The line to get in the place flowed out the door.

Hawthorne was there.

Passaic was there.

Bridgewater was there.

Perth Amboy, there.

Ocean Twp., present.

Former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell (D-31) prowled the room with Sean Darcy of Round World Consulting.

O’Donnell’s running for mayor of Bayonne next year.

For his part, “We’re going to run a great campaign,” At-Large Councilman Alex Mendez promised InsiderNJ.

He’s running for mayor of Paterson.

North Bergen Commissioner Julio Marenco circulated in the crowd, trailing what’s-next whispers, and when InsiderNJ asked a West New York source who was likely to replace Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-32) if he goes – as planned – to Sports and Expo, the source pointed to Marceno.

“Julio,” the source said.

Dr. Brigid Harrison tried to lend the event some brainpower gravitas, as did Monmouth University Pollster/Political Scientist Patrick Murray and Dr. Ben Dworkin of Rowan.

“I don’t think it was Democrats over-performing so much as Republicans underperforming,” said Murray, somewhat dampening the spirits of a nearby Democrat who had opined, “Things were going even better for us before the [Election Day] rain.”

But, for that Democratic player at least, it still worked out.

For now…

(Visited 51 times, 1 visits today)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

News From Around the Web

The Political Landscape