“I went to high school in Union City, but it sure didn’t look like this,” Menendez announced. “Six years ago I announced the start of my campaign for senate at Union Hill High School, which is my alma mater.” He received a few boos from Emerson fans, as before the current high school complex opened, the students were split between two buildings.
Menendez grew up on Hudson Avenue a few blocks from the school and raised Alicia and Robert Jr. there. His children, all grown up now, showed the students a video of their father eating breakfast at the Kennedy Boulevard IHOP and singing to the waitstaff there.
A veritable who’s who of local democrats sat in the first two rows of the large gymnasium in support of Menendez’s campaign, including Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner, Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, Jersey City Mayor Jeremiah Healey, Congressman Albio Sires (D-33), and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). Union City Mayor and State Senator Brian Stack was one of the few chosen to introduce Menendez to the crowd.
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco and West New York Mayor Felix Roque were not in attendance.
Menendez outlined many of his achievements and his intentions that morning, but the overriding message was the need for equal opportunity for everyone – particularly the middle and working classes – in order to achieve what he recalled to be his own parents’ notion of the American Dream.
“[The American Dream suggests] success is possible because the same rules apply to everyone,” Menendez said, “But I’m afraid that’s not necessarily the case today.” He asked the students to imagine a football game on the rooftop stadium where Union City’s team had to run 20 yards for a first down, whereas the opposing team only had to run five.
“That’s what it’s like for the middle class these days,” he said.
“Todos estaban conmigo en esto momento haciendo historia (those who are with me are making history this moment),” Menendez announced toward the end of his speech, just as attention was beginning to wane, his sudden launch into Spanish bringing students to their feet.
“The promise of tomorrow is a bright light that shines on each of you,” he said. “And as your United States senator, just know this: I have your back.”
For more on the campaign kick-off, read this weekend’s edition of the Hudson Reporter. -- Gennarose Pope