If you own a computer, cell phone or TV, you’ve probably heard by now that CNN reported on Friday that the U.S. Department of Justice will be pursuing corruption charges against U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). What does this ordeal mean to the political scene in Menendez’s native Hudson County?
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Let me begin by stating that as of this writing, there is no indictment against Menendez, and even if one shows up, he is innocent until proven guilty by a jury of his peers.
As far as for the history between Menendez and Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, who he has stated outright is a close family friend that information can be found at countless other media outlets.
I’ll also allow all of our loyal followers to come to their own conclusions as to whether or not the senators current predicament is a result of political prosecution.
Instead, let’s take a look at the shockwaves, or lack thereof, being sent through Hudson County right now, taking an individual look at the major cities, towns and townships in the area.
Menendez swore in Mayor Jimmy Davis, who pulled off the upset over the Hudson County Democratic Organization’s former Chairman, Mark Smith, in a June runoff election.
While there is probably never going to be any concrete evidence to prove it, many Hudson politicos believe that Menendez played a pivotal role in Davis securing the victory – sending in foot soldiers to the peninsula city to make sure the vote came out for the former Bayonne police captain.
More importantly, Assembly candidate Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-31) is a former state director for Menendez who came up short in a 2007 bid for the same assembly seat.
Therefore, seems like a safe bet that Menendez had a say in that choice.
While Menendez certainly has a connection to Davis and Bayonne, the connection isn’t particularly strong compared to other municipalities so the impact here is relatively modest here.
Anyone who follows Hudson County politics knows that Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop has had his eye on the governor’s seat for quite some time now and two of his strongest supporters to date have been Menendez and Scarinci Hollenbeck managing partner Donald Scarinci – a childhood friend of the senator.
Therefore, it should’ve come as no surprise that Fulop was quick and decisive when responding to the CNN story on Friday:
The next few weeks could potentially be crucial in for the 2017 gubernatorial race, as notorious South Jersey power broker George Norcross will inevitably be wheeling and dealing to get support behind Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3).
Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy may also decide now is as good a time as ever to take advantage of a fractured Democrat party and start building up his name recognition before announcing his candidacy.
Even if an indictment never gets handed down, the big question is will Menendez’s stock take a hit to the point where Fulop loses valuable political capital in North Jersey? Only time will tell.
Menendez doesn’t have a close-knit relationship with Mayor Dawn Zimmer, but he is a close ally with District 5 Freeholder Anthony “Stick” Romano – who is expected to challenge Zimmer in the 2017 mayor’s race.
As the photo above shows, Menendez swore in Romano on January 5, the icing on the cake of him defeating Phil Cohen and the HCDO in the June Democratic primary (he ran off the line).
Shortly after the improbable primary victory, Romano told Hudson County View at a July fundraiser that he considered Menendez “a mentor” and “a friend.”
A Hoboken election in 2017 without any involvement of Menendez could mean just about anything, but as long as Romano throws his hat into the race, it will likely mean another classic Old Guard vs. New Guard battle in the seemingly endless political war in the Mile Square City.
Union City Mayor/state Sen. Brian Stack (D-33) and Menendez, a Union City mayor between 1986 and 1992, are said to have a tumultuous relationship behind the scenes, so actually, a politically wounded Menendez could potentially benefit Stack.
If Menendez does end up embroiled in a federal trial, don’t be surprised if Stack replaces any Menendez allies that work in Union City agencies (city hall, board of education, housing authority, etc.) sooner than later.
Otherwise, Stack generally marches to the beat of his own drum and is honestly probably more concerned with what’s happening in Union City than what’s happening with Bob Menendez right now.
North Bergen Mayor/state Sen. Nick Sacco (D-32) has long been considered an ally of Menendez, but they typically work well with one another and rarely get in each other’s way.
Sacco, an elected official in North Bergen for 30 years, has a solid and loyal following in the township, so Menendez typically only confers with him on HCDO and/or county centric matters.
In other words, somewhat similar to Stack, Sacco doesn’t lose or gain much in the event that Menendez is tied up in a federal matter for the next couple of years.
On a vaguely related note, add Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez (D-32), who will receive the HCDO line when she seeks re-election in the June 2 Democratic primary election, to the list of politicians defending Menendez.
Mayor Richard Turner has been running the show since 1990 and is almost always able to avoid contentious issues at city hall and the board of education – no easy feat in Hudson County.
However, also keep in mind that Turner is the chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8), Menendez’s Cuban-American counterpart in Congress.
Expectedly, Sires released a statement over the weekend showing his clear support of Menendez.
“I will say today as I have said many times in the past at all times I have found Sen. Menendez to be hard working and a dedicated public servant,” Sires said. “Yesterday, the senator and his office made it clear that his actions have been appropriate and lawful and the facts will ultimately confirm that.”
WEST NEW YORK
Mayor Felix Roque infamously endorsed State Senator Joe Kyrillos (R-13) for U.S. Senator instead of Menendez just over three years ago.
Less than two months later, the pain management doctor rescinded the endorsement and decided Menendez was the man for the job after all.
Fast forwarding to 2014, Donald Scarinci is the West New York town attorney and Menendez is a guest speaker at a Roque fundraiser at La Reggia in Secaucus.
As a matter of fact, Roque and Menendez were supposed to co-host an immigration forum at town hall just minutes after the CNN report hit the web.
Needless to say, the senator did not make it to this one, as he was prepping for a Newark press conference later in the day where he said he has no plans of resigning.
The long term implications here could see Scarinci and other Menendez cohorts unceremoniously leaving West New York after the May 12 municipal election, leaving Roque to more or less fend for himself.
However, even in that scenario, Roque has built strong ties with Sacco and the HCDO during his comeback tour, so there is definitely a plan B should that situation come to fruition.
Also worth mentioning is that West New York’s School No. 3 was named after Menendez back in June 2013 and a select number of residents are already saying “I told you so” as to why this was an ill-advised decision.
While this probably doesn’t mean anything in the long term, it may be the catalyst some of the anti-Roque residents needed to be more proactive in this election cycle.