NEW BRUNSWICK – Having helped pass the reconciliation health care reform bill last night in Congress, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch) returned to New Jersey today, swung open the van door, and walked into a community health clinic to roars of approval and gratitude from activists and advocates.
“We would not be standing here without his hard work and commitment,” Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action, told the crowd with the beaming congressman moments later sitting in the front row.
Last summer, Pallone stood onstage as an army of email-activated Tea Party soldiers stormed the school auditorium to give him an earful of opposition to the public option and government tinkering with healthcare.
Conversely mobbed by supporters this afternoon at the Eric B. Chandler Health Center, Pallone’s public demeanor was the same as it was then. In a state of self-proclaimed tough guy reps who bristle at book learning and pride street smarts over Mayor Cory Booker’s tweet smarts, Pallone projects eggheaded good manners.
“He’s nice and unfailingly polite,” Salowe-Kaye said. “But we learned something else about Congressman Pallone through this, and that is he showed us how tenacious he really is.
“I think he’s my congressman even though I don’t live in his district. I go to the beach in his district.”
Republican State Party Chairman Jay Webber yesterday said Pallone’s fingerprints on the healthcare legislation prove he’s “far, far, far to the left of that district – a district Chris Christie won last year.”
Despite Webber’s and other Republicans most steel-jawed efforts to present political neophyte Diane Gooch as a candidate capable of giving Pallone fits, sources say the GOP is throwing a financially well-connected challenger in the arena mostly to force the congressman to expend some of his considerable $4 million campaign warchest.
Whatever his future statewide plans, Pallone today told PolitickerNJ.com he doesn’t want to challenge Gov. Chris Christie.
“Didn’t he just get elected? He has another three years, doesn’t he? I don’t want to be governor. I never rule anything out, but between the two I would want to be a senator.”
At the moment, this grassroots blender including AARP-NJ, NJ Citien Action, AFSCME, Alliance for Retired Americans, BlueWave NJ, Next Step, CWA appear delighted with him as congressman and his 18-month advocacy during the Obama era to expand health coveage to 32 million people, including 859,000 New Jerseyans, and stop insurance company abuses.
“If it wasn’t for the knocking on doors, the grassroots efforts, the bill wasn’t going to become law,” Pallone told the crowd. “I thought it was dead. The grassroots kept it alive. As far as I can tell, the only person who won’t like this bill is someone who has a buisness and doesn’t want to contribute to his employees’ health insurance.”
Marilyn Askin, chief legislative advocate for AARP-NJ, quoted Robert Redford’s character in “The Candidate,” at the end of the movie, after he’s won the election, and asks his political consultant, “What do we do now?”
“What do we do now?” Askin prodded Pallone.
“I can’t relate to that,” the congressman said. “After every election, there’s a list of things I want to do.”