Labor Day usually marks the beginning of the November election season. This year is no exception, since Democrats are hoping to benefit from a resurgence at the polls that will allow them to take control of Congress.
This may be the reason why prominent Democrats are coming into the state to support critical races for the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy is particularly busy, racing around to lend a little of his personal popularity to candidates who may be on the cusp of defeating their GOP opponents.
Murphy got help while holding a campaign rally on the campus of Montclair State University recently when former Vice President Joe Biden showed up along with Democratic State Committee Chair John Currie to boost the campaign efforts of Michael Sherill.
Sherill is running for the House in the 11th Congressional District, hoping to win the seat being vacated by Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen. The GOP has held this seat since redistricting in the 1980s, but the decision by Frelinghuysen not to run has provided Democrats with hope. The seat is seen as a tossup, which is why such heavyweight Democratic politicos are swarming in.
At the same time, many of these heavyweights came to Hudson County to support the reelection of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, in a usually reliable Democratic seat seen as threatened by a strong and wealthy GOP candidate, Bob Hugin.
Three months out from the election, polls show a shift in the winds in favor of Democrats in other congressional races, but it remains to be seen if Menendez’s sails can catch some of that wind.
Fulop jumps on the bandwagon?
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop also got on the House Democratic bandwagon, holding fundraisers for other congressional hopefuls. This may be genuine support or simply Fulop seeking to mend fences with state-level Democrats who no longer see him as a rising star.
Fulop was part of a great political miscalculation earlier this year, when he and his fellow mayors in Hoboken, West New York, and Union City announced their intention to unseat County Executive Tom DeGise, an effort which stalled when their candidate, state Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack, was beaten for the chair position of the county Democratic organization by DeGise’s daughter. That fiasco still weighs heavy on local Democrats and their friends on the state level.
While state Democrats will still answer calls from Stack, the same may not be true for Fulop. So his interest in national elections may well be self-serving, hoping he can ingratiate himself with those for whom he raises funds.
Money is the big issue. If the Democrats can raise enough and get enough new Congress members elected, they might become key to the Democratic retaking of the House of Representatives.
But the war Fulop and Stack started earlier this year is far from over – at least they are capable of mounting a serious primary challenge against DeGise in next June’s primary. While primaries generally do not bring out a lot of voters, Stack’s army in Union City could change that and bring a victory to whatever candidate Stack and Fulop support.
Rumors suggest that Mark Albiez, one time Fulop chief of staff, and the architect of the failed effort to take control of the Hudson County Democratic Organization, was to be Stack and Fulop’s choice. He may still be. This may explain why Albiez took a job with a prominent Fulop fundraiser, presumably waiting until he is called up to run next year.
Fulop’s other ace in the hole against DeGise is the county’s controversial contract with the federal government to detain immigrants at the county jail.
There are a lot of practical reasons to keep the contract, but the opponents have the moral high ground, especially after the death of an infant at a detention center in Texas. The infant apparently did not receive adequate medical care and her body was later released to her parents in New Jersey. This will become an issue in Hudson County when protestors show up to confront local officials.
Roque faces tough choice
The biggest loser in the failed HCDO coup is West New York Mayor Felix Roque, who was on thin political ice already. This may put him in the position of having to fight a tough election or not run.
Although state Senator and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco would seem like the dominant force in West New York, he is not. There are signs that Rep. Albio Sires, a former WNY mayor and Assembly speaker, is taking back his town.
If Roque was politically stronger, he might play Sires off against Sacco. But he seems in ill favor with both power brokers. Roque can’t even really hope to take advantage of a possible split vote, since he can’t really be sure of how big his own base is.
All parties, however, may have to worry about the local Republicans, who are not only organized, but are motivated to get one or more of their candidates elected as commissioners.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.