As they gathered, whispers circulated through a room full of Hudson County's most powerful political personages that a united effort would push Corzine over the top and force acting Gov. Richard Codey to suspend plans to put up a primary fight. Old wounds began to heal.
And indeed, it came to pass Monday that Codey did, in fact, announce that he won't run for the Democratic nomination for governor this coming June. It looks like Corzine's the one.
Among those who attended Friday's meeting was Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) Chairman and Senate Majority Leader Bernard Kenny, who formally announced the HCDO support for Corzine for governor in the upcoming June Democratic primary.
"I formerly believe, as do all the members of the HCDO, that Mr. Corzine is the most qualified person to help lead New Jersey into a prosperous and secure future," Kenny said.
Currently, Codey is serving as acting governor, having taken over when former Gov. James McGreevey resigned following a sex scandal.
Kenny named all 12 mayors of the Hudson County towns, hoping to show the solid support Hudson County offered Corzine, who is currently a resident of Hoboken.
Proving that the healing process seems to have taken hold, even County Executive Tom DeGise and his entourage stood on stage with former political opponents in a show of unity.
Although a poorly kept secret, the timing of the endorsement was a surprise because many of the political people had joined the state's Chamber of Commerce's annual train ride to Washington, D.C. and had to hurry back to gather for the occasion.
DeGise joked about having to return to the winter weather of Jersey City when he had been with his sister in Florida. But he made his point about the unity, saying that Hudson County would act like a "clenched fist." "This is the most united we have been in a quarter of a century," DeGise said, "and it is our privilege to support Senator Corzine for governor."
DeGise said he and others had worked hard to help heal the cleavage in the party, and gave a good deal of credit for this healing to Rep. Robert Menendez.
There had been a division in the party after Menendez supported DeGise for county executive in 2002, and Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham supported DeGise's opponent. Cunningham passed away last year, and the divisions have slowly sealed up.
Peace in the county
Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy, who seems to have become something of a peace maker, said the coming together in Hudson County was a testimony to the economic vitality of the area.
Standing on a platform with his back to lower Manhattan and Exchange Place in Jersey City, Healy said Jersey City has become Wall Street West because of the many companies that had taken advantage of what Hudson County has to offer. He said Hudson County's support of Corzine has a lot to do with Corzine's past success as a businessperson, and that this expertise will be called upon to face some of the financial challenges facing the state.
He said Hudson County also had a remarkably diverse population, part of that base of support Democrats routinely depended upon for support.
Assembly Speaker Albio Sires, who is also mayor of West New York, paid his tribute to Corzine, saying the U.S. Senator and resident of Hoboken would "bring new life" to the state government and also bring "a fresh perspective" to the problems facing the state's economy.
"He has an advanced idea and a true appreciation for the state's diversity," Sires said. "He understands the middle class as well as the needs of farmers. He is a great asset to our state."
In a prepared statement, state Sen. and North Bergen Mayor Nicolas Sacco said that Corzine - as chief executive for Goldman Sachs and later as a U.S. Senator - "has proven that he has the intellect, commitment and ability to lead."
"His record is one of the great accomplishments on behalf of our state, and we look forward to his continued leadership as governor," Sacco said.
Is Corzine the solution?
Sires said Corzine is the solution to problems of town, because Corzine understands and has worked with many of the people around the state.
"He is an honest man and has impressed me for years, and I believe he will make one of the best governors in the history of the state," he said.
This was a sentiment Menendez echoed, telling the gathering of several hundred party loyalists and the parade of media that Corzine has the ability to deal with the fiscal challenges that the state will face in the future, and that his expertise in finance will become a critical tool for solving many of the problems.
But Menendez also noted that Corzine has a deep commitment to providing security, healthcare, education, the environment and other necessary services the public requires.
"I'm told that I don't smile enough," said Menendez, apparently responding to a photo caption printed in the Hudson Reporter several months ago. "But I'm smiling today because my friends and colleagues are here to endorse Jon Corzine for governor."
Menendez said Corzine was someone who had earned his success, not someone "born with a silver spoon in his mouth," and this aspect of working his way to the top made Corzine an ideal candidate.
Corzine, in a brief speech accepting the endorsement, said he was committed to making New Jersey safe, and in particular, Hudson County, which was so affected by the events of 9/11 in 2001.
"I am grateful for the support of Hudson County," he said. "This is the cornerstone of the Democratic Party. As you know, we have a lot of work to do in the coming months. These endorsements are from the people of New Jersey, from the Sikh community to freshman assemblymen, from elected officials to the September 11 families. All of these people are demanding change in the way Trenton goes about doing business."
Divided no more?
Many people arrived an hour earlier than Corzine, looking uncomfortably around at each other, as if none really believed that three years of political feuding had actually come to an end.
Although never really completely united, the Democratic organization fractured down the middle in late 2001 after the resignation of County Executive Robert Janiszewski. Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham sought to bring political control of the party back to Jersey City after nearly a decade of more or less decentralized control. Jersey City lost control of the party in the late 1980s, and a battle for control ended abruptly in 1992 when then-Jersey City Mayor Gerry McCann was forced to resign and abdicated power to Janiszewski.
The election of a Republican Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler solidified Janiszewski's power, although he had to forge deals with the county's 12 mayors and other political brokers for over a decade to keep the party intact.
On the verge of winning back control for Jersey City, Mayor Cunningham died abruptly in May 2004, sending the party into a tailspin that led to last week's reunion in support of Corzine. Yet it was the surprising and convincing victory of Healy as mayor of Jersey City in November that appears to have finally brought all the factions of the party together and the need for Hudson County to become the vote-engine for the Democratic Party again in getting the next governor elected.
Kenny, in a brief interview after the ceremony said, "It's been a hell of a week. Now that we've brought everyone into the best as much as possible, we need to begin working towards the primary and the general election."