Republican Ad Disrespects Italian-Americans

Just when you thought the US Senate campaign in New Jersey couldn’t get any uglier or degrading, it exceeds our expectations. When I first saw the TV ad with the cheesy looking guy in a fake alley-way in a leather jacket muttering, “We gotta problem . . . Bada bing, we’re in it — but deep.” I was thinking it was some sort of cheap commercial for a product I was sure I didn’t want to buy. But the 30-second spot, which is a bad “Sopranos” take off, was actually put out by a conservative political action committee taking a shot at incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and apparently trying to help Republican state Senator Tom Kean Jr.. The goof ball spot has the fake mobster crying the blues about how the mob’s friend Menendez is the subject of a federal investigation. As the bad actor paces the alley-way he says, “And worse, this guy Tom Kean wants to clean things up, even cut taxes. Hey, where’s our take in that? We need to get the bosses to fix this.” Bob Torricelli’s name is thrown in there, as a friend of the fake mobster who is clearly intended to be some sort of Italian-American who is “connected.” To make matters worse, this idiot doesn’t even sound remotely like the mob guys or “wanna-bes” I grew up around in Newark. I’m betting he’s not even Italian. Of course, the ad finished with a professional announcer saying, “Tell Bob Menendez his high tax record is a crime.” The spot is disgusting, degrading, and disrespectful to Italian-Americans, to New Jerseyans and to the entire political process. I find it impossible to imagine people actually sitting in a room conjuring it up and then paying $200,000 to get it on the air! That’s exactly what happened with this spot in a state that has been maligned across the country as a haven for corruption and with an established history of organized crime, which thankfully isn’t what it used to be. The ad was put out by a group called “The Free Enterprise Fund Committee.” I’m hoping the Kean Campaign knew nothing about it before it hit the airwaves. Unfortunately, all Tom Kean Jr. would say is that he has problems with the ad but refused to do anything to try to stop it. When pressed about going directly to “The Free Enterprise Fund Committee” to demand they stop running the ad, Kean’s official spokesperson Jill Hazelbaker, said, “We have no control over what these groups do. We put out a statement. I’m sure they saw that.” That won’t get it done. Not even close. Obviously the ad takes an ugly shot at the Italian-American community, an unbelievably dumb move given what a huge voting block they are. Further, there’s no way such a spot would ever have been aired if it were a parody of someone who is Black, Jewish or Asian, etc. Look, I’m not a big Italian-American “anti defamation guy.” I love The Sopranos and The Godfather (except Godfather 3). But this is different. This is a campaign for the US Senate and Tom Kean Jr. should know better. The Kean campaign says it has no influence over this group, which is why they won’t press them to pull it. That may be true, but Kean also has no direct influence over whether Donald Rumsfeld stays as Defense Secretary, but that hasn’t stopped him from boldly calling for his resignation. Tom Kean Jr. has no direct influence over House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), but he has said Hastert should immediately step down over the Mark Foley-Congressional Page e-mail scandal. The Kean campaign wants its cake and wants to stuff its face, too. Kean wants to come across as clean-cut, above the fray; a fresh face who isn’t ethically challenged, like his opponent. That’s exactly the way I saw him when this race began. But he continually proves he is willing to do anything to destroy Bob Menendez, the Democratic incumbent who clearly has problems. Ironically, before this ad hit, my sense was that Menendez had issues in the Italian-American community because of his opposition to Sam Alito’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Menendez voted against ‘Alito’s confirmation because of the abortion issue. (Alito is pro-life.) I thought it was a bad vote, because Sam Alito is eminently qualified to serve on the high court, regardless of his stance on abortion. Sam Alito is the finest the state has to offer and someone who makes many Italian-Americans proud ” including me. But the Italian-American voting dynamic has changed because in the past few days virtually everyone I know whose name ends in a vowel and has seen the fake Sopranos TV spot is appalled. This visceral reaction is much more powerful than any anti-Menendez sentiment brought on by the Sam Alito vote. It may not have been a Tom Kean ad, but he surely mishandled its aftermath. He too has insulted many Italian-Americans by refusing to demand that this off-the-wall, conservative political action committee pull the spot now and apologize immediately. Somehow, my gut tells me Tom Kean Sr. would have known how to handle this, but this latest episode makes it clearer than ever Junior is not Senior. You blew it Tom Jr. I only hope you realize it and apologize immediately. My instinct is you won’t. Maybe you just don’t get it.