Showdown at the Elks Club: Weinberg Versus Fulop

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) with Joel Shain, former Mayor of Orange.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) with Joel Shain, former Mayor of Orange.

BRIDGEWATER – Gentility.

It’s that characteristic most associated with Somerset County relative to the rest of the state of New Jersey.

If the late Millicent Fenwick of Bernardsville left a Godzilla-sized footprint on our collective consciousness, she did so in Parisian heels.

So as plates clattered with shiny silverware in  the local Elks club on Thursday evening, two dueling politicians from Bergen and Hudson counties hotdogged onto the Somerset scene spitting muzzle flashes of pure politics.

They should be friends, one wag in the room noted as he observed the prickly body language between Senate

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop at the front of the room.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop at the front of the room.

Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. Weinberg should love Fulop and embrace him as the next torchbearer of a Jewish New Jersey political tradition.

But she doesn’t, evidently, with all signs pointing toward the feisty Jewish grandmother backing South Jersey ironworker Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) for governor in 2017 and eager to send Fulop sprawling back to JC for a brush up on how to play big league political ball.

Set to kick off his own guv campaign following the 2016 presidential contest, Fulop was up first at the microphone at an event sponsored by the Somerset County Federation of Democratic Women. He noted how his mother is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. During his speech, Weinberg entered and found an empty chair at the main table at the front of the room.

When Fulop had finished and tried to retake his chair, he found it occupied.

“You’re sitting in my seat,” he cracked at Weinberg.

The encounter occurred in the aftermath of the senate majority leader’s ally and political acolyte, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood), publicly backing former Goldman Sachs hotshot Phil Murphy for governor. It had to sting somewhat. Weinberg’s with Sweeney, or so everyone believes, and Johnson’s with Murphy. If the senate majority leader’s hedging with Johnson, they’re putting backup money on Murphy, not Fulop. The optics, in short, are anybody but Fulop.

But there they were at the same table, as though someone at the federation with a devious sense of political humor had insisted on playing havoc with gentility, or was simply ignorant of the tortured backdrop.

When she took the microphone, Weinberg made it clear that she hadn’t intentionally made the mayor play musical chairs. “I didn’t steal Steve Fulop’s seat,” she said. “I did not make him leave.”

Sighting rising Democratic star Peter Jacob in the wings, the Democratic leader promptly turned her ire on U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7).

“How can he twist himself into a right wing pretzel?” Weinberg slashed at Lance, her former colleague, who was an environmental progressive in the state senate before going to Congress and having to run against far right challengers every two years.

Jacob is a young social worker challenging Lance.

“Thank you, Peter,” Weinberg told the long-shot to considerable applause.