Blue Collar vs. Blue Jersey

The convention contest tomorrow to pick a second Assembly candidate in the fourteenth district sets up a semi-epic battle between two separate but important wings of New Jersey’s Democratic Party: organized labor and progressives. Competing for Hamilton Township’s slot on the legislative slate are Wayne D’Angelo, an IBEW union leader and Mercer County Central Labor Council member, and Dan Benson, an academic (he works for the Center for Energy, Economic & Environmental Policy at Rutgers) and an activist in the Howard Dean-inspired Democracy for America group.

D’Angelo is viewed as a centrist Democrat who comes out of the blue collar wing of organized labor, although in Mercer County he enjoys exceptionally close ties with public employee unions. Benson is a policy wonk whose network is aligned with the liberal (progressive) wing of the party.

The voters in this race are elected Democratic County Committee members in Hamilton and West Windsor, and insiders predict a tight contest. Benson is the Hamilton Democratic Municipal Chairman, but many County Committee members are union members. In West Windsor, the party chairperson is CWA Local 1033 President Rae Roeder, but some County Committee members may be more sympathetic to Benson’s ideology. Hamilton Mayor Glen Gilmore is pushing, albeit carefully, for D’Angelo.

One potentially key component to this race is voter turnout. The convention is scheduled for the day before Easter — a time when several County Committee members may be out of town.

D’Angelo and Benson were running mates in the 2001 municipal race and served together on the Hamilton Township Council. Benson gave up his seat to challenge Bill Baroni for State Assembly in 2005, and D’Angelo lost his bid for a second term. Benson finished fourth in Hamilton two years ago, trailing Baroni by 8,481 votes (and 2,630 votes behind the Democratic incumbent, Linda Greenstein). D’Angelo ran 3,076 votes behind Thomas Goodwin, now the GOP Assembly candidate for Baroni’s seat.

Greenstein upset some progressives last month when abstained on an Assembly resolution opposing President Bush’s surge of troops in Iraq.

Greenstein may not be entireley happy with either D’Angelo or Benson. In an interview with reporter Max Pizarro, she blamed her weak ’05 showing in Hamilton on anti-Democratic tide. Her running mate, Benson, and D’Angelo were on the the Council that flipped from Democrat to Republican. “Three council people went down like lead pipes,” Greenstein said, explaining her third place finish in Hamilton.

The winner of the convention will run with State Senate candidate Seema Singh, the state Rate Counsel and an activist in the Asian Indian community (a rapidly growing block of voters in several 14th district towns), and Greenstein, who is seeking her fifth term. The slate will face Republicans Baroni (who has won considerable labor support for his Senate bid), Goodwin, and former Jamesburg Councilman Adam Bushman.

For extreme political junkies: The Matthew J. Rinaldo Award for failing to pull the trigger goes to Keith Hamilton, who complained that Democrats would not support him in bids for the Assembly in 1999 and 2005 and for the Senate in 2001. Hamilton was given the go-ahead to run this year, but declined to risk his Mercer County Freeholder seat (the one D’Angelo wanted badly) for a chance to run for the Assembly against Baroni. Now, with Baroni running for the State Senate, Hamilton could have been the candidate for an open seat; instead, he remains in the political pergatory of county government.

Editor’s Note: This e-mail came from a Democratic leader who has asked for his/her name to be withheld.

The Assembly races will depend a lot on the local campaigns in Hamilton and Monroe. What impact does Gilmore have on the race, since the local operations and not the Assembly campaigns, will be driving turnout. For the Democrats will Pucci’s operation deliver the votes they need?

Baroni is probably a lock in the Senate. Which, from my labor perspective is fine with me. We need more Republicans that are at least willing to talk to us — and he goes above and beyond.

But, that still brings us back to Benson v. DeAngelo. I think there are some labor leaders that are trying to make more out of this contest than it deserves. Benson comes out of the Hamilton operation, paying his dues through his work on the club and committee. DeAngelo is a johnny come lately who thinks since he works for a labor union that is all he needs. As a democrat and a member of labor, I respect the candidate that pays their dues working for the party. When Benson lost, he didn’t put his tail between his legs and run away. He continued to work to build the party. Where’s Wayne been?


Blue Collar vs. Blue Jersey