December 2000

Winner of the Year

JIM MCGREEVEY

Mayor of Woodbridge

Loser of the Year

RAUL GARCIA

Assemblyman

A gubernatorial nomination is one of the great prizes of New Jersey politics, and for the first time in modern history, Democrats have united behind one candidate for Governor.

Woodbridge Mayor Jim McGreevey was a one-term State Senator when he nearly defeated the seemingly popular Republican Governor, Christine Todd Whitman, in the 1997 election. McGreevey never stopped campaigning.

At the beginning of the year, McGreevey was the front runner, but many pundits believed Mike Murphy, Tom Byrne or Bill Pascrell could wrestle the nomination from him. Bob Torricelli was the 800-pound gorilla hovering around the race.

When Torricelli announced in July that he would run for Governor, a nomination that seemed to be his for the asking, McGreevey looked like a goner.

Torricelli seemed poised to win the endorsements of the powerful Essex and Hudson Democratic organizations. The now famous Sunday night meeting at the Newark Airport Marriott, resulted in the agreement between Bob Menendez and Sharpe James, brokered by insiders Donald Scarinci and Calvin West, to endorse McGreevey. After twelve remarkable days, Torricelli folded.

Independent polls conducted by PoliticsNJ.com/ Rasmussen Research and Quinnipiac College show McGreevey leading the potential Republican candidates.

The meteoric rise and fall of Rudy Garcia’s political career may be unprecedented in New Jersey politics. Political pundits in Hudson County and throughout New Jersey have watched the career of this onetime rising star hit rock bottom at the age of 36.

Garcia was elected to the State Assembly in 1993, and five years later became the Mayor of Union City. He owed his political career to Bob Menendez, who supported him for both offices.

But in 1999, Garcia turned on Menendez. He ousted Menendez’s ally on the Hudson County Freeholder Board and replaced him with his onetime rival, Brian Stack. He fired Menendez’s best friend as City Attorney.

Under Garcia’s watch, Union City experienced severe financial problems. And he took heat for contributing $25,000 from the Democratic coffers to a candidate for President of the Dominican Republic.

Menendez, with Union City voters on his side, fought back and formed an alliance with Stack. A recall drive ended in Garcia’s resignation as Mayor, and Democrats say he’ll be dumped from the State Assembly next year.

Last month, a former staffer filed a lawsuit against Garcia, accusing him of assault and battery and harassment. As a politician, Garcia is at an ultimate low point from which he may never recover.

Winner of the Year Runner Up

JON CORZINE

U.S. Senator-Elect

Loser of the Year Runner Up

ROCCO IOSSA

Bush Campaign Director

For much of 1999, most New Jerseyans had never heard of Jon Stevens Corzine. But one year and $70 Million later, he is headed to the United States Senate.

Corzine shattered all prior spending records, spending more money to win a statewide office in the history of American politics. He has altered, maybe forever, the way campaigns are run, in New Jersey and perhaps across the country.

Corzine wasn’t the f
irst mega millionaire to run for the U.S. Senate, and won because he put his money not just into message, but into organization. He took quite a bit of heat for his spending, but did what he had to do to win.

People will talk about Corzine’s campaign long after his service in the Senate ends, but the bottom line for this bottom line kind of guy is that he’ll have at least six years in the world’s most exclusive club.

Rocco Iossa directed the New Jersey campaign of George W. Bush, who lost New Jersey by sixteen points. That’s the worst showing of a successful presidential candidate in New Jersey in the history of the state.

Iossa, once a star operative who helped Christie Whitman defeat Jim Florio, proved to be a maladroit leader. He offended party leaders in the primary by keeping Bush off party lines, and in the general was criticized for failing to mount any serious grass-roots campaign in New Jersey. Critics say that Iossa was more interested in interfacing with the Austin campaign headquarters.

Had Bush done even a few percentage points better, Bob Franks would be a U.S. Senator, Dick Zimmer would have returned to Congress, and Republicans would still control the Bergen County Freeholder Board. That’s a huge cross for Iossa to bear.

Winner of the Year Runner Up

BOB MENENDEZ

U.S. Congressman

Loser of the Year Runner Up

PETER VERNIERO

Supreme Court Justice

Rep. Bob Menendez had a great year. He emerged as a national leader in Congress as Vice Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and as an advocate of Elian Gonzalez. He was considered as a possible Democratic candidate for Vice President. He became a major player in Al Gore’s national campaign; national pundits say it was Menendez’s strategy that put Florida in play for Gore.

At home, Menendez used his local popularity and political instincts to eliminate Rudy Garcia as a serious rival. He helped secure the Democratic nomination for Governor for Jim McGreevey. And he won a landslide victory for re-election to a fifth term in Congress.

In Congress, Menendez continues to rise as a legislative power and party leader, and is on track to move up in leadership in the future.

The appointment of Peter Verniero to serve as an Associate Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court was the most controversial of Gov. Christie Whitman’s two terms in office. Amidst a firestorm of criticism caused by the State Police’s practice of racial profiling, the State Senate approved Verniero with the minimum 21 votes needed for confirmation.

The recent disclosure of documents by the Attorney General’s office gives some Senators reason to believe that Verniero must less that forthright with them during his confirmation hearings, and that he may have known more about racial profiling than he said he did.

With a reputation already blemished, Verniero may be compelled to answer Senators questions, and if some legislators and civil rights advocates have their way, face possible impeachment.

Winner of the Year Runner Up

MESSAGE & MEDIA

Political Consultants

Loser of the Year Runner Up

MICHAEL LAPOLLA

Union County Manager

Never before has one political consulting firm become so dominant in state politics. Brad Lawrence and Steve DeMicco of Message & Media had a career year that made them the envy of their fellow operatives and consultants.

Message & Media handled two of the most watched races in the nation: Jon Corzine’s Senate campaign and the re-election of Rush Holt in the 12th district. The firm was involved in Al Gore’s New Jersey campaign, and a number of key local races, incl
uding the re-election campaign of Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage.

Lawrence and DeMicco, New Jersey’s premier Democratic strategists, will handle the McGreevey for Governor campaign in 2001.

Mike Lapolla spent years as a loyal soldier of Ray Lesniak’s Union County political machine. He assembled as solid record as a Freeholder, Assistant Prosecutor and County Manager.

But as a congressional candidate, Lapolla proved so inept that the combined support of Lesniak, John Lynch, Jim McGreevey, Bob Torricelli and the DCCC could not secure him the Democratic nomination for a nationally-watched open House seat.

Lapolla refused to accept the advice of a competent campaign staff and premier consultants, and even wrote a radio commercial himself that, in retrospect, cost him the election.

Winner of the Year Runner Up

BOB FRANKS

U.S. Congressman

Loser of the Year Runner Up

RAY ZANE

State Senator

Rep. Bob Franks actually lost his race for the United States Senate, but people seem to forget that. Despite being written off the many pundits, and being outspent by $65 Million, Franks’ aggressive campaign nearly upset Jon Corzine.

As a result of winning 48% of the vote, Franks has emerged as a GOP star, and independent polls from PoliticsNJ.com/Rasmussen Research and Quinnipiac College show Franks with a huge lead in a Republican primary for Governor.

Like Christie Whitman’s 1990 Senate race against Bill Bradley, Franks exceeded expectations, always beneficial in the political game.

First elected in the 1973 Democratic landslide, Ray Zane became a popular legislator who won re-election easily and often without opposition. He was seen as the most conservative and independent member of the Democratic Caucus.

It was Zane’s independence that has made 2000 a miserable year for him. After refusing to back a Democratic Assembly candidate in 1999, the Gloucester Democratic organization stripped Zane of more than $100,000 of municipal and county legal work. Zane’s slate of Freeholder candidates lost the primary by a wide margin, and Zane is slated to lose the organization line in the 2001 Senate primary.

Winner of the Year Runner Up

JOE FERRIERO

Democratic Chairman

Loser of the Year Runner Up

DICK ZIMMER

Former Congressman

Republicans won control of Bergen County government in 1984 and in 1985 pushed through a charter change referendum to create the office of County Executive.

As Bergen County Democratic Chairman, Joe Ferriero has revitalized the county organization and raised nearly $3 Million in a three-year campaign that has resulted in a 4-3 majority on the Freeholder Board and a Democratic Sheriff. Ferriero is now the top dog in the state’s most populous county.

Dick Zimmer might be proof that you can beat a dead horse.

Zimmer easily won the 12th district House seat three times and gave it up to run for the U.S. Senate in 1996. When Republicans wanted to win it back this year, Zimmer seemed like the logical choice. But in a district that heavily favored a moderate Republican candidate, and armed with a strong campaign team, Zimmer managed to lose to freshman incumbent Rush Holt.

December 2000