Hoping to rub a little salt in the wounds of the Hudson County Democratic Organization – which has been so far ineffective at countering his moves – Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop is expected to endorse Donald Payne Jr. for the 10th congressional district seat in a primary in which the HCDO had backed Nia Gill.
The Fulop endorsement, however, will come with some strings attached, sources claim, which includes an endorsement by Payne for Fulop’s mayoral campaign next year.
“Payne is reluctant to do it,” one source said. “But only because it looks like a deal had been struck. But I suspect he’ll do it.”
State Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack has already endorsed Payne for a seat that was vacated with the unexpected death of Payne’s father, Rep. Donald Payne Sr., earlier this year.
“HDCO’s endorsement of Gill was a big mistake,” said one political observer close to Fulop.
The Gill endorsement is part of a larger strategy hatched outside of Hudson County by Union County State Sen. Ray Lesniak, some sources claim, part of a consolidation of power that would guarantee political control over a key economic area that includes Port Newark.
Freeholder Bill O’Dea, who is a close associate of Lesniak, made fun of the Payne for Congress effort, but Fulop has a lot to gain by endorsing Payne, even beyond getting a high profile endorsement for mayor.
First of all, there is a perception that he is weak in the African-American sections of Jersey City, a key voter base he will need if he expects to win his election as mayor next year.
With her ties to Lesniak, State Sen. Sandra Cunningham’s support of Gill is not as big a surprise as many might claim, since Cunningham is African-American and so is Payne. While Gill is also an African-American, Fulop people believe she will have little appeal to Hudson Counter voters.
Fulop’s backing of an African-American candidate for sections of the west side of Jersey City gives him clout among voters he most needs to reach ahead of next year’s election, when he may have to contend with Cunningham endorsing Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy.
Fulop comes off three successful school board victories by candidates he backed and an even more impressive victory of taking control of the Jersey City Democratic Committee.
To date, it has been organizational talent and his uncompromising pushing of issues that has allowed him to expand his reach beyond Ward E and his natural base. By supporting Payne, Fulop has an excuse to send his campaign workers into parts of the city where they can build on his base among people he doesn’t currently represent – including the heart of Freeholder O’Dea’s district.
Secondly, this move allows Fulop to keep his workers sharp by giving them an election when otherwise they would face a serious time lapse before next year’s mayoral race.
Payne people are also confident they can win and that the HCDO endorsement of Gill will not make a big difference.
Hudson County represents only 19 percent of the 10th congressional district with the rest pretty much equally divided between Essex and Union Counties. With Stack and Fulop coming out for Payne, this leaves a very small portion of the county from which to generate a significant Gill vote.
The field is also crowded with more than six candidates running for the seat, including powerful Newark Councilman Ronald Rice Jr. This poses another problem for the HCDO since one of the key organizers, Vision Media, represents Rice, and will not be available to get out the vote for Gill.
Payne people believe the divided Hudson County gives Payne the edge over Gill, allowing Payne to get his vote out in Essex County to counter the strong Union County votes generated for Gill by the Lesniak machine.
Payne people also say they are reaching out to Hoboken Councilwoman Beth Mason for possible financial support in Hudson County.
Meanwhile, Dr. Blase Billack has announced that he will be running for the 9th congressional seat as a Republican.
A registered Republican since 1991, Dr. Billack lives in Bergen County.
Redistricting led to some problems with voting machines
Saying that it is better to work out the potential problems in a school board election rather than in a primary or general elections, Hudson County Board of Elections Clerk Michael Harper said there was some confusion due to changed polling places, but that these were not as significant as many people claimed.
Harper said politics played a role in some of the complaints because some of the most significant changes to voting districts made after the 2010 U.S. Census were made in Ward E, an area where Fulop campaign workers were seeking to get out the vote for candidates Fulop endorsed.
Harper agreed that there were problems, some generated by the redistricting that forced people to seek out different polling places, some by unhelpful poll workers who did not seem to take the concerns of the voters seriously.
Of the three towns most affected by restricting, North Bergen, Jersey City and Secaucus, Jersey City had the most problems, including areas where polling places had to be moved. Sample ballots apparently sent some workers to the wrong places. In one case, Harper said, people went to a senior building that had customarily served as a polling site, but had been changed because of redistricting.
Harper said there were some program and software issues
“It was a comedy of errors,” he said. “This is the first time we were working with the statewide voting system.”
Information on the changes was supposed to go out ahead of the school board election, but mis-calibration on the 30,000 mailers made this impossible, Harper said.
Fortunately, Fulop’s slate won so big that the aftermath was not so nearly as bad as it could have been.
One piece of misinformation that got spread on Election Day was that the county had run out of provisional ballots – ballots that allow voters to cast their votes until disputes are settled later. The county had more than enough and had a lot unused after the polls closed, he said.