Menendez’s Son Prepares to Run for His Father’s Old House Seat

Robert Menendez Jr., 36, has told political leaders he intends to run for a House seat being vacated by Representative Albio Sires, a Democrat from West New York, N.J.
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Robert Menendez Jr., the 36-year-old son of New Jersey’s senior United States senator, has told political leaders that he will run for Congress to replace Representative Albio Sires, who announced on Monday that he will not seek re-election.

If elected, Mr. Menendez, a Democrat, and his father, Senator Robert Menendez, the 67-year-old chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, would be likely to serve together in Washington.

The younger Mr. Menendez is a practicing lawyer who would be making his first run for public office, and he is expected to face challengers from the left in the Democratic stronghold that includes heavily urban parts of Hudson, Essex and Union Counties. He did not return calls or emails.

But even before Mr. Sires confirmed that he intended to step down when his term ends next year, powerful political leaders had already begun to coalesce support behind Mr. Menendez.

In an interview on Tuesday, Mr. Sires, a former mayor of West New York, N.J., who has served in the House of Representatives since 2006, said the younger Mr. Menendez told him that he planned to run and asked for his support.

Senator Menendez, who declined to comment through a spokesman, held the same seat in the House before being appointed to the Senate in 2006 to fill a position vacated by Jon Corzine after he was elected governor; the borders of the district, now known as the Eighth Congressional District, have since been slightly redrawn.

In June, Mr. Menendez was appointed a commissioner of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey after being nominated by Gov. Philip D. Murphy, a fellow Democrat.

“I think he’s the perfect fit for the district,” said Mr. Sires, 70, who emigrated from Cuba as an 11-year-old.

As a moderate who also is of Cuban heritage, Mr. Menendez would connect well with voters, Mr. Sires said.

“He’s bright. He’s articulate. He’s energetic,” Mr. Sires said. “He comes from good stock.”

“He told me, ‘Whatever I can do to help him, please do,’ ” Mr. Sires added. “I told him I would be there.”

Brian Stack, a state senator who is also the mayor of Union City, a largely Latino community that is a key voting bloc in the district, also quickly expressed support for Mr. Menendez.

“He will be a great congressman,” Mr. Stack told the New Jersey Globe, which first reported that Mr. Sires was retiring and that Mr. Menendez planned to run for the empty seat.

Hector Oseguera, a left-leaning Democrat who challenged Mr. Sires last year and lost by a large margin, said that running in the district required a deep understanding of the Democratic political machine in Hudson County.

“You can’t really parachute in,” said Mr. Oseguera, who said he would consider running again only if “nobody emerges from the progressive movement.”

Ravi Bhalla, a progressive Democrat who was re-elected mayor of Hoboken last month, had been considered a potential candidate for the seat. But on Tuesday Mr. Bhalla, the first Sikh elected mayor in New Jersey, dashed talk that he had any interest in running and strongly suggested that he would support the candidate tapped by the Democratic Party leadership.

“While I’m honored and humbled to have been approached by members of the Sikh and South Asian community, along with other stakeholders to run for Congress,” he wrote on Twitter, “I’m 100% committed to serving the residents of Hoboken as mayor.”

Mr. Sires, who has served on the House transportation and foreign affairs committees, said that he considered passage of President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill — and the benefits it offers for public transit in New Jersey — the capstone of his career.

He is one of 25 members of Congress who have announced that they were quitting politics.

“It was time,” said Mr. Sires, who also served in the New Jersey Legislature, where he was the first Latino Assembly speaker. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity this country gave me, and I’m happy to have had the chance to give back.”

He said the hyperpartisan political divide in Washington had played a role in his decision.

“Washington is a very difficult place to work now,” he said. “You either have to be part of the left or part of the right. There seems to be no room in the middle.”

Senator Menendez’s quest for power is markedly different than his son’s. Before he was 21, the senator was elected to the school board in Union City, where he was raised, the son of Cuban immigrants. He went on to become the mayor of the city and a state legislator.

Decades later he survived an admonishment from a Senate panel for accepting gifts from a wealthy doctor and a 2017 federal trial on corruption charges. He emerged years later as one of the most powerful Democratic members of Congress.

Only two of New Jersey’s 12 House representatives are Republicans. But a redistricting commission is expected to release the state’s new congressional map on Wednesday, and several Democrats in swing districts are likely to face fierce challenges for re-election as Mr. Biden’s popularity wanes.

It is not uncommon for a child to follow a parent into Congress; it has occurred at least 42 times in the Senate alone between 1774 and 1989, according to the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

But only a handful of children have served in Congress at the same time as their parent, and there are no pairs in the current 117th Congress, according to the Library of Congress.

Mr. Menendez, who is registered to vote in Jersey City, N.J., is a 2008 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, according to a biography on his law firm’s website. He and his father both graduated from Rutgers Law School.

Representative Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat who has worked closely with Mr. Sires in the House, called Mr. Sires “a giant in every sense of the word.”

“Albio has battled for Amtrak and our commuters. He has battled for immigrants and human rights. And he’s battled to give the Garden State its rightful share of the pie we are so often denied,” Mr. Pascrell said in a statement.

“He’s my buddy and I’m going to miss him greatly,” he added. “We have big shoes to fill.”

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-12-22 03:28:22 -0800