By MAX PIZARRO
State Sen. Gerald Cardinale said the Democrats can pour money into the 39th district, maybe even hit a couple of people who don’t know him and change their minds, but he says he and his team will run on the issues and win.
The veteran senator said he learned Wednesday night of Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Chair Ferreiro’s decision to pull the plug on a slate of candidates challenging incumbent Sen. Loretta Weinberg and her running mates in a district 37 Democratic Party.
The move frees the Democrats up to go to war with the 73-year-old Cardinale, who shrugged off the news.
"This is America," said Cardinale. "I don’t expect to run unopposed. I’m not running unopposed. People vote their preference. Since 1979, in every election I have run, I have won."
Receiving the news that Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes will drop his primary challenge to Weinberg, Cardinale said, "That’s very interesting. I heard Wildes was hell-bent on doing this. Maybe his mind’s been changed."
Democrats have been talking up a challenge to Cardinale, one of the state’s most conservative Senators, for the past year. Their candidate is Joseph Ariyan, an attorney from Saddle River and an ally of the Bergen County Democratic Organization.
With the party’s war against Weinberg apparently settled, Ferriero may have the financial resources to take on an expensive battle to oust Cardinale. Weinberg and Gov. Jon Corzine are expected to help.
On Monday, Democrats designated Weinberg’s district as their Clean Elections district, which would give the three incumbents about $300,000 to spend in a race they are the strong favorites to win.
And in South Bergen, State Sen. Paul Sarlo has over $500,000 in his warchest and faces only token opposition from the Republicans.
That allows Ferriero and the rest of the Democrats to target Cardinale and the incumbent Assembly members from the 39th, John Rooney, 67, and Charlotte Vandervalk, 69.
Cardinale said he learned a long time ago not to take anything for granted in politics.
"I am the first Republican senator in this district," he said. "I succeeded a number of Democrats in this district, and that’s because we work. We work very hard."
The Democrats can pump out some television ads, he said. The issues remain the same: low taxes, constituent services and family values that reflect the district.
"I will not be lacking resources to get my message to the public," said Cardinale, who served as a school board member and Mayor in Demarest before unseating Democratic incumbents in 1979 and 1981.
But Cardinale may be on his own when it comes to funding his race. Senate Republicans are on a tight budget — they are defending seats in the first and second districts and trying to pick one up in the twelfth — and Bergen County Republicans didn’t raise enough money this year to pay the rent on the headquarters.
The stakes are high for the Bergen GOP. If Cardinale were to lose — and if Essex County Assemblyman Kevin O’Toole wins the 40th district Senate seat — Bergen would be without a Republican in the State Senate for the first time in forty years.
Cardinale, who lost Republican primaries for Governor in 1989 and Congress in 2002, is ready for another four years in Trenton.
His big beef is with the way the Abbott School districts are financed, which he feels unjustly punishes middle class school districts. If re-elected, he wants to drive his legislation to make urban school districts operating under the provisions of Abbott more accountable, and he wants them to pitch in more money.