Sometimes a conspiracy really is a conspiracy, as was apparently the case in the attack on U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez earlier this year, when bloggers claimed he had allegedly been involved with underage prostitutes while on a junket to the Dominican Republic.
This week The Washington Post published a story saying that a video clip showing an escort making claims against Menendez had been scripted and the woman admitted she had been hired to read the claim on camera.
Just whose dirty trick this was is anybody’s guess. Local Menendez supporters claim it was a right wing smear orchestrated on a national level. This is not to say that Menendez doesn’t have local enemies – including his former challenger for U.S. Senate, Gwen Clayton Diakos, who has raised number allegations during the long bitter campaign last year. But Diakos would not likely take part knowingly in such a plot, nor would the loose coalition of anti-Menendez people she has associated with, such as West New York Mayor Felix Roque.
“This is a lot bigger than hacking into a website,” one political observer said, referring to federal charges that Roque and his son allegedly hacked into the website of a political opponent in West New York. “Whoever did this had a lot of money and a lot of connections on a national level.”
Swimming to Jersey City
The running joke among political figures in Hudson County last week involved two bits of trivia: a political ad showing Jersey City Councilman Steven Fulop swimming in the Hudson River and the recent news that former West New York Mayor Sal Vega showed up at a Fulop event.
“Sal is giving Fulop swimming lessons,” the joke goes, “because Sal was the last Hudson County politician to swim in the Hudson River.”
The joke refers to an incident about a decade ago when Vega allegedly fell off the side of the Palisades while jogging – something Vega has hoped time would allow the voting public to forget.
The problem for Vega isn’t his swimming from Jersey City (with the help of Fulop) back into the mayor’s seat in WNY. Vega’s problem is that he was so unpopular as mayor that he was driven from office, along with all of his commissioners, by a relatively unknown Dr. Felix Roque. Voters might be willing to forget a fall off a cliff, but they won’t easily forget or forgive the huge tax hike Vega implemented while in office.
Vega’s appearance at the grand opening of Fulop’s headquarters was a courtesy, according to Fulop people, nothing more, a gesture towards some of the Fulop workers who had also worked for Vega in his failed reelection bid in 2011. While Vega may be making a bid for mayor of WNY, his appearance, Fulop people say, isn’t part of that.
As long as there are alternatives to Vega, such as Commissioner Count Wiley or Commissioner Caridad Rodriquez, Vega will largely act as a spoiler in any election, taking away votes from any anti-Roque coalition.
Although saddled with legal troubles, and squabbles at commissioner meetings, Roque hasn’t attained the same low levels of popularity that Vega saw. Unless Roque steps down as a result of some deal with federal authorities over his alleged involvement in website hacking, or is forced to leave office as result of a conviction, he remains a force to be reckoned with, partly because of his personal wealth and partly because of the apparent strong support from his neighbor, state Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack, who can send legions of election workers into West New York if Roque needs them.
Union City Commissioner Chris Irizarry’s departure for Florida creates yet another gap in the Stack organization, adding to a brain drain that makes a Hudson County political war less likely, even though political war hawks are still pushing him to challenge the status quo.
Hudson County Democratic Organization Chairman Mark Smith will likely support Stack as part of a united ticket in June, despite all the rumbling and grumbling going on behind the scenes.
Fulop may be better organized
This column mistakenly noted recently that Fulop’s Jersey City mayoral campaign could interfere with his support of candidates for Board of Education, missing the fact that Jersey City was among the municipalities in New Jersey that opted to move its school board election to November.
“We got that out of the way so we could concentrate on the mayoral election,” one Fulop campaign person said.
But actually, with all of the candidates on the Fulop ticket certified, the Fulop team has become even more ambitious, looking to garner support for a takeover of 368 Democratic committee seats that are up for grabs in the Democratic primary in June.
Meanwhile, Mayor Jerramiah Healy appears to be scrambling to get all of his candidates certified before the March 11 deadline, which says a lot about the weakness in his organization if they can’t get the signatures they need.
In some ways, both campaigns may be running out of gas as they approach the May 14 municipal election. Fulop is looking to hire teens to help bolster the ranks of weary volunteers who have been in campaign mode for the last two years. Healy, however, has already been hiring teens to make up for the lack of street people to collect signatures. Not unheard of – but since politics is a team sport, you have to wonder: where is Healy’s team?
Jack Butchko, a political consultant in Hoboken and Jersey City, and a one time candidate for Bayonne City Council, praised Daniel K. Inouye, who died at 88 in December, represented the Hawaii in Congress from 1959 when it became a state. Butchko worked at the Inouye’s legislative assistant and speech writer during the 1970s and 1980s.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.