“Hello, how are you? Nice to see you this morning.”
Brian Stack zooms across 14th Street in Hoboken on this relatively warm Tuesday in January. Wearing his black overcoat and power tie, a newspaper tucked under one arm (a paper that he promptly puts into his car), he rushes across the street to Uptown Bagel and Deli, where he generally orders a buttered multigrain sesame bagel and coffee.
“Hello, how are you?” he says again.
He waves to the Hoboken police cars that pull to the curb with lights flashing, as they aid a disabled driver. Stack waves to the early morning staff at the restaurants on several corners. He waves to the people at the bus stop.
“He always says hello to everybody,” the owner of Nick’s Candy store says. “He’s a really nice man.”
“I come here every morning,” he says when stopped on the street amidst his rush from this place to that, before he rushes back to his car. “I come here to get bagels.”
The store owners know Stack is the mayor of Union City. Because his state Senate district includes Hoboken, some pedestrians even recognize him as their senator.
Stack is a man of routine, often eating meals in the same places like the Coach House on Paterson Plank Road on the Union City/North Bergen border, or the Four Star Diner in the heart of the Union City business district north of the 30th Street viaduct.
In some ways, being out and about in the public is classic politicking, letting real people see his real face in real situations, not just on TV ads or election flyers.
Dressed like many of the people who commute to work from Hoboken every day, Stack looks even more like an everyday bloke, someone commuters might sit next to on the bus to New York or on the way to the PATH or ferry.
Stack learned his political craft from masters of the old politics, like former Union City Mayor Bill Musto and the legendary Union City mayor and North Hudson political boss, Bruce Walters. But he also learned from being an advocate for the poor, able to understand the plight of needy people even though he looks like an executive.
His ability to bring out ordinary people to vote for him in Union City has aggravated the political machine in Hudson County for years, allowing him to sometimes take the role of maverick, and to befriend powerful Republicans on the state level such as Gov. Christopher Christie.
Prior to his being a state senator, even prior to his serving as a state Assemblyman, Stack briefly served as the county freeholder from Union City, drawing hundreds of supporters to the Brennan Court House for his swearing-in. Almost a decade later, supporters’ chants of “Brian, Brian, Brian,” are likely still reverberating in the historic arch and halls.
Which is all the more reason to question why Stack did not appear at the Jan. 4 swearing-in of County Executive Tom DeGise and eight of the nine freeholders, but chose to go to the freeholder reorganization meeting a day later to swear-in the Union City freeholder.
Politics is largely made up of symbolic gestures, something Stack well knows, and so when he doesn’t take his rightful place at the Brennan Court House along with state Senators Nicholas Sacco and Sandra Cunningham, U.S. Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, and many of the other Hudson County mayors, it says something. With so many state and federal elections just around the corner, you have to wonder what message Stack is trying to convey – even as he rushes back to Union City clutching his multigrain sesame bagel and his cup of hot coffee.
Off year for Hudson elections
Although a heated national election is slated for 2012, with Democrats desperate to keep New Jersey in Pres. Barack Obama’s column, it’s different Hudson County. This year is an off year for local elections, as political people rest up for the antics expected in 2013. Even the expected heated primary between Rep. Bill Pascrell and Steve Rothman in the 10th Congressional District this coming June will mostly be a side show, since the only Hudson County towns still in that district are Kearny and Secaucus.
Rothman will need strong support from Hudson County if he expects to beat Pascrell, who has the heavily Democratic cities of Paterson and Passaic to draw on. Rothman’s support is spread out across Bergen County, which is controlled by Democrats, but has no concentration of Democratic support he can easily muster. Rothman is one of those candidates who appears to do best in general elections where moderate independents and even some Republicans can vote. In a primary, it is difficult to see where he can garner votes.
Even his support in Hudson County is questionable. While Sacco, DeGise and the mayors of Bayonne and Kearny have endorsed him, there are powerful political people such as freeholders Bill O’Dea and Jeff Dublin who are backing Pascrell.
While Rothman has won the endorsement of Bayonne Mayor Mark Smith, Bayonne Councilman Ray Greaves – chairman of the Amalgamated Transit Union State Joint Council – is backing Pascrell, as are many union leaders throughout Hudson, Bergen and Passaic counties.
Getting ready for next year?
Hudson County will mostly be concerned with who will run for mayor in Hoboken, Jersey City, and Secaucus in 2013. Will Councilman Steven Fulop run for mayor in Jersey City or will he throw his support behind Viola Richardson, as his support for making her council president last week suggests he might? Can Councilwoman Beth Mason overcome her past defeats to somehow upset Mayor Dawn Zimmer in Hoboken? Can Zimmer be beaten at all? Will anybody bother to run against Secaucus Mayor Mike Gonnelli?
The contemplation of these questions may well be the political equivalent of a yogi contemplating his own navel, but you can bet many political yogis are doing just that.