ZERO HOUR: The New Jersey 2017 Election and the Cynical Cycle of History

The head on the bar rose and turned toward the sound of steps, eyes squinting to try to make sense of the approaching form, and the sight of those eyes twitching in half-light and unseeing, prompted a feeling of utter dejection, delusion, and the immediate only option conclusion of a fast exit as a matter of self-preservation. But then the source kicked the bar stool practically in the path of retreat and waved an arm at the shiny wooden surface, half-way reproachfully drunkenly beckoning the sit-down and so there it was again, the face coming into sharper focus, hardening a story line that finally had done little in the intervening months since before the primary other than to drop a rung on the cynical ladder of existence.

The source ranted about the cycle, how bad it was, how boring and without contour, complained about money, about how not enough of it moved, and railed and railed, and moaned, about things like “character,” and stories one has heard dozens of times before, attributed to other people, but presented as fresh and urgently relevant, forcing a contingency plan of turning to text message contacts statewide for a fuller picture of the terrain. And so the Sunday before Tuesday Election Day struggled to stay in focus.

The back chatter more or less seemed to add up to the collective observation that Democrats hated one another and Republicans were irrelevant. Indeed, Gov. Chris Christie had blown up the Republican Party in New Jersey, leaving behind those left to answer for his presidential aspirations in tougher than usual general contests – witness state Senator Jennifer Beck (R-11), for example – or powder-kegged into spending more in GOP districts than they had ever bargained for. Now, deprived of Christie but for a late and last thorough spate of network TV ads leg-ironing Republican nominee Kim Guadagno to her boss and giving them both a great big, high-paid, heave-ho out of office, Democrats looked ahead to their own unresolved issues.

The gradations of interest conformed to the voter registration county by county.

“There’s no election on Tuesday,” a Hudson source wrote back to InsiderNJ. “All Tuesday is about is whether Phil will generate enough votes to put himself in the 2020 presidential discussion right away. That’s the test. Nothing more. He runs up the numbers and wins by double digits, he’s in that conversation. He doesn’t, he’s not.”

An Essex source was more circumspect.

“Well, in a year that should have rivaled the Dem sweep after Watergate, things have tightened,” he said.

Hahn, backed by the NJEA.

In the South, the brand names at political war for their seats of power, fueled by the raw adrenaline of their own real and costly effort, seemed content to build their campaigns around themselves, leaving alone discussions about the dynamics of Murphy and Guadagno, and instead lingering on what will happen to the NJEA in this state on Nov. 9th when the senate reorganizes. “I don’t think it’s so much about what Sweeney does to them,” one source told InsiderNJ, referring to the teacher’s union that backed a Republican against the sitting Democratic senate president in the most expensive legislative contest of all time, “So much as it is what he doesn’t do for them.”

In Middlesex, there were more observable nervous twitches vis-a-vis the governor’s contest on a day when Phil Murphy, the Democratic nominee for Governor, hit the county on a barnstorming tour of the state.

Those inheritors of the Lynch shock and awe political model weren’t feeling particular muscular.

Middlesex County Democratic Committee Chairman Kevin McCabe didn’t know what to find when the bus hit Sayreville.

They had some big names on the marquee: Murphy, Cory Booker, Bonnie Watson Coleman.

But the overall mood just felt flat.

Would they find a janitor stumbling behind a push broom once they got inside the otherwise empty venue?

It turned out they didn’t. The place was packed, in fact, and one source observed that Murphy, in his turn at the microphone, “was on fire.”

Still, Democrats in Middlesex knew the Guadagno Campaign’s windmill attack: Taxes, Sanctuary Cities, Taxes, Sanctuary Cities, Taxes, Sanctuary Cities, had lumped them up somewhat in the burbs. They weren’t feeling indestructible. They were bloodied in the burbs, and there was no question that Keith Hahn, a prior local Democratic Party chair in Edison now running for the mayoralty as a Republican, with the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) behind him, too, just like Fran Grenier in LD3, had made the local race closer than expected. Democrats fighting the teachers’ union, a source seethed. Building trades fighting cops.

“We’re killing each other,” a source confessed to InsiderNJ.

It started ten years ago at the AFL-CIO convention in Atlantic City, when a public sector union leader rose and demanded the censure of Steve Sweeney for his role in attempting – pre-Christie – to overhaul the public pensions and benefits. Leadership slapped the person down, Sweeney went unpunished, but then Gov. Jon Corzine, having stood on the steps of the Statehouse and shouted his support for public sector labor, lasted a term, ushered in Christie, who worked with Sweeney on Sweeney’s original intention to extract larger contributions from public sector workers to their pensions and benefits, and writhed in agony through Christie, trusting in Sweeney’s attempts to make good, but losing faith finally and now going after him, and expected to lose, dragging the fight into, presumably, a Murphy administration.

And Murphy’s disposition to public sector unions appears as sunny as Corzine’s, threatening, or so the sources in Middlesex said earlier today, a storming of Normandy situation, with Dems landing in the barges and Dems trying to hold the beach once Murphy gets sworn in and Sweeney and Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-19) respectively assume the oaths of office in the senate and assembly.

“Status quo election,” another source wrote back. “No one you think is going to lose will lose.”

And didn’t reply to follow up questions.

Sweeney wins and returns to the senate, and sufficient numbers of Democrats welded to the Sweeney power grid win to supply Coughlin with the speakership – and Murphy wins, whether by eight points or ten points. Most sources in both parties say he missed his chance for a bigger win when he said he would turn New Jersey into a sanctuary state and when he outlined a message of $1.3 billion in new taxes.

South Brunswick is dynamic owing to a local election, a source insisted, and that will help return Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-16) to office. But others aren’t so sure, noting the double barrel difficulty posed to a suburban, swing district Dem like Zwicker by Murphy’s messaging. “I love Andrew,” said a North Jersey source. “He’s the only one in caucus sometimes who isn’t afraid to ask questions.

“But I think he’s hurt by Phil,” the source added.

Conventional political wisdom in both parties deems incumbents like Zwicker and those suburban challengers already outside the walls of power the only possible casualties of the cycle, thereby doing little or nothing to change the narrative; and only Murphy supplanted for Christie, with even the machines that backed the Republican the most obviously engaged operations backing his likely Democratic successor. That conversation starts with state Senator Brian P. Stack (D-33), persona non grata with the NJEA, who looks more excitable than ever in Hudson County, home to the state’s biggest countywide plurality of Democrats. Stack has a special motivation, not to conquer Republicans, but to position himself to succeed fellow Democrat state Senator Nick Sacco (D-32) as Hudson’s chief power broker, particularly if U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) drops on corruption charges and a vacuum ensues. While Stack gets the vote out for Murphy, his intensification also spells disruption to the power base of one of those four northern chairs – Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) – who backed Murphy for Governor at the outset.

Back at the bar the source, on the eve of victory and apparently still sunk in the same state of depression, the Democrat said his party was going to fumble it away again. Not now. Not in the next 48 hours. But eventually. The error of first principal stood out too starkly, the cycle of history too obvious. The Republican in InsiderNJ’s company at a bar last week had radiated a fuller sense of inner peace, perhaps at being able to climb past the Christie era, or maybe because he too could see the dimensions of ffracture on the other side – and predict the future.

The Democrat expounded.

“Just like we did with Corizine,” he mused. “Murphy is too liberal. He’ll win, but his fight with his own party has just begun, and that will give the GOP time to settle its bench and a star will rise, just like it did with Christie.”

The temptation was to round out the source’s observation with the completed narration: “And that person, that Republican, will get ambitious, and run for president, but be unable to escape the scandalous condition of New Jersey,” but before any of the words came out, someone cranked “Gimme Shelter” by the Stones on the juke.

It was just as well, with Election Day 2017 fast approaching.


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One response to “ZERO HOUR: The New Jersey 2017 Election and the Cynical Cycle of History”

  1. I and MANY of my fellow residents were approached by gilliam’s team offering us $30.00 to get on a white van and vote the democratic line at old mays landing court house. Many voted several times. Also walking away with 3 messenger ballots each. I am my fellows are demanding voter verification of EVERY mail in ballot! They were pulling in voters from other neighborhoods. That is not just a local fraud its is state wide. WE BEEN HIJACKED@! again! and my life was threatened !

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