The deadline comes, and the deadline goes


TRENTON – It’s not the clock on the wall.

It’s the timer in the data stamper.

That’s what determines who gets in here to file in Trenton before the primary deadline, and who doesn’t.

The ones present in the room at this late hour on Monday have already made it.

Among them, Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo of district 29 sits at a table facing the elections workers, flanked by retainers: his son Nico and his campaign manager Charles Williams.

He is grim at first sight. Pensive. An arm goes round the back of Williams, and Caraballo leans in, apparently accepting counsel.

At another table, Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein and her running mate Wayne D’Angelo of district 14 are going through the last stages of filing.

Behind Caraballo, others sit against a wall. There are mothers with kids in tow, the kids slumped in chairs with faces of agony. There is a hospital worker still in uniform. There are college-aged youth. Veterans and newcomers. They all sit there equally with orange tags marked "visitor" on their shirt or jacket fronts, and numbers in their hands. They are all running; all attempting to fulfill a civic duty, nudged into the fray by whatever hurt or angst or noble impulse he or she carries privately and ultimately packages publicly in the slogan: "I’m running to serve the people of New Jersey."

Caraballo is facing forward, waiting in silence now.

He’s the last one left running from a 29th district team of stars, including State Sen. (and former Newark Mayor) Sharpe James, and Assemblyman William Payne. The others are gone now, leaving Caraballo to run solo against a young and vibrant squad of challengers.

He waits.

"Anybody who needs a petition because they’ll be challenged, they’ll be available tomorrow," a clerk says in a voice usually reserved for whatever the highways left on the doorstep of the Division of Motor Vehicles.

It’s getting close to 3:30 p.m.

Then it's 3:30 p.m.

The filing deadline is a half an hour away. A few political junkies linger in the hallway, looking for scraps, wondering if the devilish James will appear at five minutes to 4, defying news reports that he’s not running.

"At 4 p.m. you should unplug the data stamper, just unplug it," senior management assistant Donna Barber tells volunteer Elsie Manfredi.

A young guy in a suit and long coat arrives. Make 'em wait, seems to be the attitude. He’ll be governor in 15 years. That’s the dauntless vibe he puts out there. He’s getting stamped by Manfredi, and he’s not in the room five seconds before he’s on the Blackberry. But what if he doesn’t win this Legislative race? The sense is it will not be a tragedy, so much as an inconvenient adjustment: governor in 20 years.

Greenstein and D’Angelo appear to be finishing up.

"So we’re all free to go?"

"Call me if you need anything," a clerk tells them.

Caraballo gives Greenstein a hug, and shakes D’Angelo’s hand as two-thirds of the district 14 team heads for the door. "All right, Linda."

"Good luck," he tells D’Angelo, who in turn greets his running mate, district 14 State Sen. candidate Seema Singh, who's on line and ready to file.

There’s a jockeying of bodies near the door. People can just manage to shake one another’s hands between chiming Blackberries. Two guys get ready to shake hands and it’s a race to see who can get there first without emitting a musical sound.

Assemblyman Craig Stanley arrives. He’s part of the enigma known as Newark politics, a condition that’s intensified for Stanley especially ever since Mayor Cory Booker got behind a slate of alternative candidates.

"This is the day I’ve always filed on," he says. "This is the way I’ve done it every day for the last six terms."

He likes the chances of the district 28 ticket on which he’s running with State Sen. Ron Rice and Assemblywoman Odaline Pruitt.

"We’ve got the endorsements of the Essex County Democratic Organization," says Stanley. "It’s not us going against the grain, it’s the other people who are going against incumbents, against people who have been receptive to constituents. If anything, it’s counter-intuitive to seek to replace Senator Rice, Assemblywoman Truitt and me."

Stanley says he has nothing against the mayor.

"We serve a common interest," he says. "We serve the people of Newark. Our interests are never individual."

He goes to the wall and takes a seat and waits his turn.

Those who have already received a stamp from the machine will wait and they will file, but it’s 4 p.m. now, 4 p.m. at last, and James never pulls that final grand entrance.

Only a young man runs in, and he’s too late. He pleads with the volunteers and the elections staff, gesturing desperately at the clock on the wall, begging them to acknowledge he still has a minute left.

"It’s not the clock, sweetheart," Barber tells him.

It’s the data stamper, and it’s unplugged. The deadline comes, and the deadline goes