In a speech designed to rally the Democratic faithful to fight against unfair budget cuts, newly-elected Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell vowed to fight for core Democratic issues, even if it means taking on Republican Gov. Christopher Christie.
With the support of Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith, who also chairs the Hudson County Democratic Organization, and State Senator Sandra Cunningham, County Executive Tom DeGise, Assemblyman Charles Mainor and other prominent Democrats, O’Donnell overwhelmed his opponents in a race to fill the unexpired term of Anthony Chiappone who resigned in August after pleading guilty to charges related to misuse of campaign funds.
“This was a five week campaign. We fought hard and we fought clean.” – Jason O’Donnell
With 18,465 votes, O’Donnell defeated Republican Joseph Turula, who had 4,919, and two independents, Robert Mays with 2,415, and Denis Wilbeck with 2,360.
During the post election celebrations on Nov. 2 at the Chandelier Restaurant in Bayonne, O’Donnell spoke before about 300 supporters, thanking and rallying them to oppose cuts that would balance the state budget on the backs of the state’s most vulnerable residents.
“I want to thank everybody from the bottom of my heart. This was a five week campaign. We fought hard and we fought clean. We’re going to change the 31st District just as the way the mayor has started to change Bayonne,” he said. “This was a great victory. Savor it, enjoy it. But the work begins tomorrow. We begin anew. So that we can tell this governor – who has decided to wage war on the middle class, on civil servants, on teachers, on the elderly, on the disabled – to go to hell.”
After a harsh response from Gov. Christie’s office on Nov. 3 and ranting from right wing talk show hosts throughout the state, O’Donnell said he might have phased it better, but said he intended to stand up for Democratic values.
O’Donnell, however, received support from the state’s Democratic leadership saying that his remarks were accurate and to the point.
A victory for the HCDO
Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith – who also chairs the Hudson County Democratic Organization – set the stage for O’Donnell’s speech when he pumped his fist in the air and shouted to the crowd, “Are you fired up, finally?”
O’Donnell’s victory was a huge victory for Smith, in that it proved that as chairman he could win an election outside the boarders of Bayonne, and by the margin of victory O’Donnell got even in areas of Jersey City most thought would turn out against him, Smith proved that the HCDO under his leadership not only could win, but could win big.
“This night is not about me, it is about this community, the 31st legislative district, it is about what we are going to do to better our lives to stand true to the Democratic core values and core principles. That was what this election was about,” Smith said.
He thanked all of those who supported the campaign for their “commitment and sacrifice.”
“Today, we sent a message loud and clear,” he said. “There are pundits who said the Hudson County Democratic Organization is dead – it is the HCDeadO. We went a message today that the Hudson County Democratic Organization is alive, it is vital and it is a power to be reckoned with on a state level once again.”
A new campaign starts
In September, members of the 31st District Democratic Committee – which includes members from Bayonne and a large section of Jersey – voted to name O’Donnell to replace Chiappone.
O’Donnell told supporters that he was humbled by the outpouring of support, not only in donations, but in time.
Prior to the public celebrations, O’Donnell told his most intimate staff that while the election was over, a new one has just started.
“This is a great victory, not only for myself but for the party in Hudson County and our new chairman, Mayor Mark Smith,” he said. “But I have bad news. It doesn’t end today. The work begins tomorrow. We saw what the other side is willing to do – they are willing to do and say anything to try to slander, malign and damage the good things we’re trying to do.”
During the campaign, supporters of one of the other campaigns distributed a flyer accusing O’Donnell of making racists statements, which O’Donnell said he never made.
O’Donnell thanked his workers for putting up with it during the last election.
“I want to take a moment to apologize to all my supporters for the abuse they were subjected to by my opponents,” he said.
He said in June, he will need this group to help him win the Democratic primary for the seat he just won, for a chance to run in the general election in November 2011.
Couldn’t beat the Democratic machine, Wilbeck says
Wilbeck along with supporters and several workers gathered briefly in their headquarters in Bayonne, saddened by the loss.
Wilbeck said his campaign was “outspent and outmanned,” but that he had given it his best shot, but he also hinted that he might be taking a break from office running after losing two elections in one year. Earlier this year, he lost his bid for Bayonne city council.
“You get tired of losing,” he said.
Some workers from the Mays campaign were also on hand to commiserate, saying that the powerful HCDO had exerted its resources to beat them.
One political observer said Mays and Wilbeck would have been better served had they combined forces, since Wilbeck had a base in Bayonne and Mays in Jersey City.
Hudson County Republican Party Chairman Jose Arango said although Turula had a good showing, the Republicans could not overcome the HCDO’s political machine.
“It is what it is,” Arango said sadly. “Hudson County doesn’t reflect the trends going on in the rest of the state and the country. But we’re proud of what Joe did.”
Arango said O’Donnell’s victory hinged on the African American community, which came out for the Democratic candidate in reaction to national attacks on President Barrack Obama.
“They seemed to believe that had to vote Democrat to defend the President,” Arango said, noting that he was disappointed in some of the racial attacks against O’Donnell made in fliers against O’Donnell, and said he believed these may have prompted more people to support O’Donnell, especially among senior citizens.
“A lot of seniors and members of the African American Community started asking `what the hell is going on here?’” Arango said. “So they came out to vote for O’Donnell.”
Arango, however, did say that he was disappointed in O’Donnell’s “go to hell” remarks concerning the governor.
“That proves he’s not yet ready to serve in the state Assembly,” Arango said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.