Some opponents believe Menendez has been weakened by the corruption case brought against him last year by the U.S. Department of Justice. A hung jury of 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal resulted in a mistrial. When prosecutors sought to retry the case earlier this year, the judge threw out seven of the most serious charges, saying the feds had failed to prove their case during the original trial.
The Justice Department then chose not to pursue the case, leaving Menendez bruised but not broken.
At least two potential GOP candidates who would like to challenge Menendez in November appear to be running their campaigns against him based on the still-unproven accusations made during the trial. An opinion piece from a prominent columnist in a statewide daily newspaper seems to agree that the case against Menendez had legs.
But the events over the last year should tell both friend and foe that Menendez is still a force to be reckoned with, and any Democrats who hoped to fill his shoes quickly discovered not to take anything for granted.
While Democratic strongholds like Hudson and Essex counties may not be as potent politically as they were under Boss Frank Hague, they still account for a concentrated block of Democratic votes that a Republican candidate will have to overcome to beat Menendez, who arose from Hudson County politics through a series of elected positions.
If Hudson County mayors such as Brian Stack, Nicolas Sacco and Steven Fulop back Menendez, a GOP candidate will be hard-pressed to beat him.
Menendez is also a Latino at a time when Latinos are under attack by the GOP administration in Washington, D.C. and since Menendez is one of the leading voices against this federal oppression, the sizable Latino vote will come out for him later this year.
Equally important are national Democrats, who would support Menendez if only to keep the seat from falling into GOP hands at a time when the Democrats may be poised to retake control of the U.S. Senate.
Menendez can also likely count on the support of newly-elected Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, who ran his own campaign against President Donald Trump’s initiatives. Murphy would have to support Menendez to keep the seat from falling into Republican hands.
Bayonne election may hinge on prejudice and hate
The settlement with the city of Bayonne that will allow the construction of a Muslim center to move ahead will have a huge impact on the upcoming municipal election this spring.
This will be largely unfair to either Mayor Jimmy Davis or his adversary, Jason O’Donnell, since both candidates are considered liberal and support diversity.
But because some people unfairly blame Davis for allowing the center to move ahead, O’Donnell may inherit a volatile block of racist votes that already tinges the election.
O’Donnell may be forced to a choice: disavow this fringe element, or risk being painted as The Donald Trump of Bayonne.
More legitimate and perhaps equally divisive issues center on new development and the threat of change and gentrification.
O’Donnell has already inherited some of the older residents who fear they may be driven out of Bayonne as gentrification works its way down through lower Jersey City into Bayonne.
The May election may well be the start of the kind of war that plagued Hoboken from the 1980s, newcomers vs. old timers, as new development brings in new residents.
Overshadowing this is the fear of the pending revaluation of property in Bayonne and the horror stories of massive tax increases being reported as a result of the recent reevaluation in Jersey City.
Davis will have a hard time convincing many existing homeowners of the benefits of new development. He will have to show how these projects are the fulfillment of the as-yet unrealized dreams of several previous administrations – especially in regard to development on the former Military Ocean Terminal (MOT).
MOT was once billed as the salvation of the city. But a downturn in the economy and miscalculation led to its remaining mostly vacant for more than a decade.
While new development along the Hudson Bergen Light Rail line and along Broadway may breathe new life into what is traditional Bayonne, it comes with a price. The city has used tax abatements to lure developers, a system many critics claim is unfair to ordinary taxpayers.
Back to the future in Hoboken
Still licking their wounds from a nasty mayoral race in Hoboken, some of the former candidates and current council members have helped override a veto by Mayor Ravi Bhalla. The mayor’s opponents sought to revisit the issue about whether Hoboken should still have a runoff election system. The council voted to put the question on the ballot in November. Bhalla, whose election benefited from lack of a runoff because he won with less than 50 percent of the total votes cast, vetoed the legislation. The council overrode the veto, setting the stage for an off-year conflict that may severely impact the six ward council elections set for November 2019.
The original ballot question was passed by voters in November 2012 in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Because of power outages and flooding, some voters were allowed to vote via internet, and this raised concerns that vote was skewed towards supporters of the referendum since many of those who might have been opposed could not get to the polls or did not have the same level of internet access.
Then Mayor Dawn Zimmer benefitted from the change because in 2013, she was able to squeak out a reelection victory with far less than the 50 percent of the vote that would be needed under a run off system.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.