A super-sized message delivered | Political Insider

Sitting in the front row on stage at Union City Mayor and Sen. Brian Stack’s extravaganza are New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney, left, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, Gov. Phil Murphy and Stack. Sitting in the second row between Menendez and Murphy is Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla. They are at the packed Park Performing Arts Center on Thursday evening on April 26, 2018. 

I would usually attend a Union City Mayor Brian Stack rally to read the body language and listen to unspoken messages. Also, a Stack event is about the pageantry. The we-love-Brian-fest reminds me of what it must have been like at a set of a Cecil B. DeMille production.

When the Thursday evening Union City First rally took place I was attending the New Jersey Press Association Spring Awards Ceremony in Hamilton where The Jersey Journal and its sister Advance (Newhouse to you old readers) Media publications racked up an impressive number of wins.

I did understand the importance of the Union City gathering at the Park Performing Arts Center, famous for its long running Passion Play and once the setting for an HBO George Carlin show. It comes at an important moment in county politics. There were enough people that I know attending who kept me abreast of what went on at the Stack-athon.

Apparently when you say thousands attended, you almost don’t have to question the figures, according to those who were there. I still prefer saying many hundreds even though the 1,400 seat theater was packed with folks standing in the aisle and many were hanging outside the venue.

What was more interesting was what political figures showed up at a time when loyalties within the Hudson County Democratic Party are being questioned. Remember when I previously wrote that there would be an answer to county Executive Tom DeGise’s attack mailer highlighting Stack’s convenient bromance with Gov. Chris Christie. This rally was a small part of that response.

Let’s try to encapsulate the background to this long back story. Last month Stack, the 33rd Legislative District senator, and Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop told DeGise they would not back him for re-election next year. DeGise said he was running despite their rejection but the problem is that Stack is expected to become the Hudson County Democratic Organization chairman this June and would decide who is on the party line in the 2019 primary.

DeGise, with help from North Bergen Mayor and state Sen. Nick Sacco and his satellite municipalities (West Hudson, Secaucus, Guttenberg and a shadowy Weehawken), is running a campaign to resist Stack’s potential chairmanship and the trashing is in full swing.

It should be awkward for Sacco because his man, former Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto of Secaucus, was backed by everyone as chairman of the HCDeadO for an unprecedented two-year term. Now Sacco doesn’t want a change in the status quo, meaning DeGise, and it’s understandable considering the large amount of patronage the North Bergen boss controls in county government.

Another way to look at this is as a generational gap. DeGise, Sacco and others in this camp have long been eligible for AARP membership. It is one reason the Democrats have no bench in their dugout. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Stack and Fulop represent the next generation of Democratic Party big honchos with the potential for more newcomers rising to the top.

DeGise held a recent fundraising event at the Liberty House in Jersey City, attended by U.S. Rep. Albio Sires of West New York who is also marked for removal after this year’s election. The biggest coup was getting U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez to say hello after he recently survived an unsuccessful attempt by federal prosecutors to try him for being a bad boy. Giving Menendez “Special Guest” status was tantamount to applying for a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval from the party’s iconic member.

So it must have been a surprise when Menendez showed up in the front row at Stack’s big circus Thursday evening. Besides Menendez some other biggies attending were Gov. Phil Murphy, state Senate President Steve Sweeney, 31st District state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, a number of area municipal elected officials, all Democrats — and Essex County Republican Chairman Al Barlas and former Essex County GOP Sen. Kevin O’Toole.

And yes, Fulop was not there. He was at one of his own community events. Besides, no one wants to share the stage that you’d like to hog. Nevertheless, Stack and Fulop are connected at the hip in this power move.

As for the Menendez appearance, I took into consideration that it comes when the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee “severely admonished” their New Jersey colleague. The senator’s sin they said was supporting the business interests of a Florida doctor in return for “gifts,” although a jury couldn’t agree with the panel, one way or another, and federal prosecutors decided they had little chance of winning a retrial.

This now officially dark episode in Menendez’s political career is the main campaign focus for his re-election opponent, Republican Bob Hugin, a former executive for bio-tech firm Celgene Corp.

It just seems that every time Menendez gets a national bloody nose, he seeks solace in his home county and city. To be fair, so does every major elected official, but in Bob’s case, it helps to go to a room where you know the people in charge can churn out astronomical re-election votes.

Understand the bizarre irony of this gigantic rally. Mayor Stack and his mates are running to return to City Hall and they are unopposed. This extravaganza has been super-sized as a countywide message for Democratic Party members. Essentially Stack and Fulop are being headlined as the progressives and a needed change to the status quo.

It is one of the more interesting political dramas in New Jersey this year.


The residents of the Peninsula City have unusual choices for the upcoming mayoral race. Yeah, there are the true believers for mostly the two front runners, incumbent Mayor Jimmy Davis and rival challenger and former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell, who will blindly cast their ballots for their guys.

The third candidate is an unusual “two-sport” personality, Dr. Mitchell Brown who besides having a gerontology practice is also an attorney, naturally specializing in malpractice.

After helping to host The Jersey Journal Facebook streaming of our editorial board interviews of each candidate I came away with some quick observations.

Davis seems to have held his serve when it comes to development questions, not so much with other queries. Perhaps the point that hurt him the most was his admission that he doesn’t read the local newspaper and gets his news about what effects the city from others. 

O’Donnell’s answers were so smooth and he seemed too comfortable that it actually made some board members feel it was a black art. Does he come off that good or is he a good actor? Will the alien pop out of his chest?

Brown was the most interesting and perhaps a bit naïve. What we learned it that he has also tried his hand at being a standup comedian and also dabbled in poker out in Vegas but he insists that he’s not a professional and it’s something that relaxes him. Having a poker face and capable of getting some guffaws serve a politician well. Brown claims that should he win, he has no intention of giving up any of his practices.

Wow, I seem to have written more about a guy who is an underdog but he does want to cut government expense and isn’t interested in county politics — really.

What you notice about this campaign is that the election is just around the corner and it seems the city residents have suddenly awakened to that fact. There’s a buzz in Bayonne and the race appears to have substantially tightened as a result of a wave of mailings and campaigning by the O’Donnell camp. It’s close enough in the home stretch for everyone’s plams to sweat a bit on Election Day.

We’re not hearing anything more about a more than suspect 28-point lead early campaign claim by the incumbent campaign. Also, we’re waiting for that overdue endorsement from former Mayor Mark Smith – who was recently tabbed to head the county’s homeland security outfit for $104,000 annually – for Davis, who defeated him in the last election.

And I never mentioned the sexting

EDITOR’S NOTE: Agustin C. Torres’ columns appear on the nj.com opinion website on Saturdays and occasionally in the print edition of The Jersey Journal. Submit letters to the editor and guest columns at [email protected]