by MAX PIZARRO
With the exception of a courtroom squabble over signatures, the contest for state Senate in district 31 proved mild in May until both sides popped the manhole covers on JFK Boulevard and snorkeled straight to the lower depths of Hudson County for an all-out mud-fest.
Examine recent campaign flyers from both camps.
The Sandra Bolden Cunningham/Hudson County Democratic Organization glossies show pictures of former Jersey City Mayor Gerald McCann interposed with shots of state Senate candidate (and Assemblyman) Louis Manzo. A close-up of McCann in one of these mailings brings to mind all of the fearful malevolence of Peter Lorre in a low budget horror flick, while the pic of Manzo suggests a wannabe desperado spitting sand out of his face after getting bucked off his charge.
McCann’s affiliation with Manzo has proved the Cunningham contingent’s favorite bright-red button. As Manzo tried to deny there was a connection, then attempted to make a case for forgiveness of McCann’s past sins, the McCann banter from the opposing side intensified, and Manzo was clearly in danger of becoming “McManzo.”
Against the backdrop of his Marion Barry-like re-entry into municipal politics as a Jersey city School Board member, it appeared McCann would become the blimped-up protagonist in a tale culminating with Manzo’s loss, an end made all the more likely by the former mayor’s creepy assemblage of signatures at a senior citizen’s complex.
That was before Randall Wallace entered the drama.
When Manzo learned the Cunningham campaign was working the streets with a convicted sex offender in their entourage, the assemblyman went on offense. Manzo figured if he were getting his comeuppance for relying on the campaign counsel of a politician who once wore striped pajamas for tax evasion and fraud, the proud Cunningham – ever the arrogant presence in the snake-pit of Hudson and walking around with an arguably even more menacing threat to society, was overdue for a reality check.
Cunningham refused to denounce Wallace or dismiss him from her campaign, before he willingly bowed out late last week.
But the damage was done.
Now throughout the 31st district, Manzo’s campaign mailings show Cunningham with Wallace, Wallace with Cunningham, even as the city’s Spanish-language newspapers kept the story afloat over the weekend.
The Wallace factor could also have devastating consequences in Bayonne, a Roman Catholic stronghold. But with its 51 districts, Bayonne is dwarfed in district 31 by wards A and F in Jersey City which add up to 67 districts, where candidates in both campaigns say expungement of the records of non-violent young offenders remains a pressing issue, not to mention combating the underlying causes of violent crime.
“Why don’t you do a story about the fact that there was a man shot and killed on that street right over there last night,” said Jeff Dublin, a Hudson County freeholder and Cunningham supporter, standing in the Greenville section where his candidate hopes to win primary support in the African-American community. “There are real problems in this neighborhood, without dragging candidates down.”
Cunningham faces the particular challenge of engaging African-American voters in a primary, and she knows it.
“We vote in general elections,” Cunningham told a crowd two weeks ago. “But this time we’re going to need your vote in June.”
Meanwhile, Manzo picked up the endorsement last week of Ward E Councilman Steve Fulop and hopes to flex his muscles in the remaining Jersey City sections of the 31st district – parts of wards B and C.
On Saturday night at the Manzo headquarters on John F. Kennedy Boulevard, campaign chieftain Pat Desmond kicked back as he watched Carlos Delgado blast one out of the ballpark.
“We’ve got it won,” he said, nodding to yet another campaign worker who left with a bundle of Manzo signs under his arms.
“This thing is over,” said Desmond. “I say we win by 14 points.”
He wasn’t referring to the Mets game.
On a Sunday morning public television show taped last week, Manzo and Cunningham appeared side by side on Jim Hooker’s On the Record and discussed their candidacies. It was the first time during the campaign season they have appeared at the same forum, and it came after Cunningham said she wouldn’t debate Manzo.
Cunningham used a segue of Manzo’s inability to date to build majority support for his property tax relief plan, to counter criticism that she has allied with the very organization her husband, former Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham, fought.
“I think the way to get things done is to be able to work with people, and one of the things that I’m hoping to do when I go to Trenton is to put together what I call an urban plan, which has not been done before and this is to work with state legislators from other urban areas that share the same problems that we do and come up with a block… to build support,” Cunningham said.
But when Cunningham questioned how long Wallace, who’s already done time behind bars, should be ostracized, Manzo hit hard.
“A second chance for child molesters and those who rape victims will kill any expungement program for non-violent offenders in Trenton,” Manzo said.
And no one mentioned McCann.