EGG HARBOR – In a muscle-flexing exercise intertwining biography and budgeting during what the polls show to be a foundering tenure, Gov. Jon Corzine tore into Atlantic County on Sunday night and barked out strained-voice stanzas to Democratic Party troops.
“I need four more years to get the job done,” cried Corzine, building on the populist, polls-be-damned, tough guy address he delivered in Middlesex on Wednesday and again in Mercer yesterday to collect party support in both counties.
The Atlantic County Democratic Organization also complied, lending its unanimous backing to the governor, who continued to defend his $29.8 billion 2010 state budget proposal Sunday, which Republican critics have repeatedly denounced as anti-middle class.
Gently trying to distance himself from a Republican effort to lump him with governors Jim McGreevey and Richard Codey as the tail end of a failed trifecta of Democratic Party leadership in the state, while also attempting to burnish his commitment to the middle class, Corzine said his administration has doled out $7 billion in property tax rebates – “50 percent higher than the McGreevey-Codey era.”
Also resisting opposition attempts to depict him as Jimmy Carter in meltdown mode circa 1980, a publicly charged-up Corzine packaged himself as a Horatio Alger everyman who worked his way through night school, joined the Marine Corps, and later fought to the top of the heap at Goldman Sachs.
“I just want a life that gives me confidence we’ve made it better for our children’s future,” said Corzine in a voice steadily going gravelly.
Introducing the governor, state Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Atlantic City) called Corzine “a straight-ahead guy.”
“I think you’re looking at a situation very similar to what Brendan Byrne faced in the late 1970s,” said Whelan. “You’ve got a guy here who has that same bluntness and directness, and when people get over their initial frustration with the budget, they will reelect this governor who has acknowledged that we will all share in the pain for the sake of protecting seniors and children. We will all feel the pain, but less so ultimately because seniors and school kids are ok.”
Whelan praised Corzine for changing his initial budget proposal to eliminate tax deductions on income taxes for everyone but seniors for one year, instead creating eliminations only for those non-senior taxpayers making over $150,000 annually.
“I think the governor avoids the double whammy everyone has been talking about,” said Whelan, referring to the governor’s other remaining proposal to freeze property tax rebates for homeowners other than seniors making less than $75,000 each year.
“That adjustment was appropriate,” Whelan added.
In front of a packed house here at the Vienna Inn on the outskirts of Atlantic City shortly before Whelan introduced Corzine, State Democratic Party Chairman Joseph Cryan reminded anyone worrying in the room that New Jersey numbers 700,000 more Democrats than Republicans, then poked at GOP gubernatorial frontrunner Chris Christie.
“Critiquing is for 8th grade English, but if you want to be governor, you have to stand up and be a leader,” said Cryan, a reference to Christie’s remarks that his job as a candidate is to “critique” Corzine’s budget, not present his own line-by-line effort.
“We are going to kick Chris Christie’s ass all over the State of New Jersey come November,” added Cryan, apparently vaguely echoing an oft-quoted foreign policy phrase from President George W. Bush’s first term.
Democrats outnumber Republicans here in Atlantic: 47,468 to 38,854 and images of President Barack Obama onscreen accompanied by a blaring rock soundtrack to launch the convention prompted a lone, “Thank God” to erupt from the crowd.
Corzine reminded the committee that with independents swayed by Obama, Atlantic County kicked in 68,000 votes for the victor or 16,000 more than it delivered to Vice President Al Gore in his failed 2000 presidential bid.
Notwithstanding Obama’s win last year and Whelan’s 2007 victory over Egg Harbor Mayor Sonny McCullough, GOP County Chairman Keith Davis said Corzine and the Democrats’ battlement-style pronouncements will do little to alter a shifting terrain that enabled Republican Frank Balles to defeat Democrat Jim McGettigan in last year’s sheriff’s contest.
“I think as much as Obama helped Democrats here in the last election, Corzine will hurt them,” said Davis.
Down ballot on Sunday night, Democrats stood behind three freeholder candidates: firefighter Angelo DeMaio of Atlantic City, who will face Democrat-turned-Republican At Large Freeholder Frank Giordano of Hamilton Township; carpenter and blueberry farmer Sam Mento of Hammonton, who will face District 5 Republican Freeholder James Curcio of Hammonton; and cop John Devlin of Atlantic City, who will run against baker-businessman Frank Formica of Margate for the District 2 seat vacated by the retirement of Freeholder Thomas Russo.