Highlighting bipartisanship, Booker toys with challenger Bell at packed North Jersey campaign kickoff

By Max Pizarro | September 3rd, 2014


Kicking off his re-election toward a full six-year term, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) threw elbow slam after elbow slam into politically disconnected Republican challenger Jeff Bell then waved off a question about how and where he’s stood up to entrenched power.

Booker made much in his speech to a crowd of Democrats in this hardscrabble Bergen County river town about the need for people in Washington to get along; people are tired, said Booker, with bickering in Washington, which is why he’s gone out of his way to cultivate a cross-the-aisle persona.

He poked at the underfunded Bell (zero cash-on-hand, compared to $3.4 million for Booker), author of a book about the need for polarization in politics.

After speeches in which a zesty U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) heaped praise on his colleague and called for his return to the upper federal chamber, PolitickerNJ pointed out to Booker that, in fact, many people are also tired of power protecting power in American politics, and urged the senator to supply three occasions in the last ten months when he stood against power.

“Did you just hear the speech?” the senator asked.

Booker said he’s helped 100s of families stabilize their mortgages, secured monies for firefighters, helped small businesses with economic stabilization, expanded unemployment insurance, and undertaken measures to fix a broken criminal justice system.   

PolitickerNJ also asked the senator about last week’s meeting of the four northern Democratic County organizations: Bergen, Passaic, Hudson and Essex, wondering whether Booker believes the union would weaken the longtime strength of South Jersey and disrupt the party’s balance of party.

Booker said he was unfamiliar with the issue.

Numerous North Jersey party players attended Booker’s kickoff to lend their goodwill to his effort on this, the third leg of his statewide campaign swing.

The biggest contest of the season is in Bergen County this November, where Freeholder James Tedesco is challenging incumbent County Executive Kathe Donovan.

Tedesco sat in the front row.

The onstage tableau included Booker’s mother, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-9), and Democratic State Party Chairman John Currie.

In the crowd, attendees included Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32), state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36), state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-29), Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer (D-29), Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-31), Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-35), Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36), Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari, East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor, Bergen Freeholder Steve Tanelli, Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss, East Orange Councilman Chris James and CD5 Democratic nominee Roy Cho.

Booker gave a personalized onstage shout-out to Cho, who’s challenging movement conservative U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5).

A brace of Newark elected officials stood in the back of the community gym, including Councilman (and former Mayor) Luis Quintana, Councilman Anibal Ramos, Councilman Carlos Gonzalez, and Councilman Augusto Amador.

Essex County Democratic Party Chairman Leroy Jones was in the room.

State Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-28) was not present.

Rice won’t be voting for Booker in November. Booker could redeem himself, said the senator, by returning to Newark and submitting to residents’ questions about the Newark Watershed and an embattled Newark Schools system headed by Booker ally Cami Anderson.

But unless Booker does that, Rice intends to sit on his hands in the U.S. Senate contest between Booker and gold standard champion Bell.

“Cory needs to read the paper and stop reading about himself, but he goes to Camden to campaign because he feels comfortable hanging out with [South Jersey powerbroker] George Norcross,” Rice said.

Booker told PolitickerNJ that as senator now he’s focused on all of New Jersey’s 21 counties, and wants to work toward reducing violence in all urban centers and around the state.

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