Menendez stays out of local politics, sort of

By MATT FRIEDMAN
PoliticsNJ.com

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez won’t pick a horse in the Hudson County Democratic primaries. But the Senator was in Jersey City today with Tom DeGise to tour the new St. Joseph’s School for the Blind facility, and he had some kind words for the Hudson County executive.

Menendez praised DeGise’s use of federal Community Development Block Grants to help build new facilities like the one he toured today.

"It’s an example of how the County Executive has used resources from CDGB in a powerful way that ultimately unlocks the potential of citizens to be able to fulfill their own potential," said Menendez, who then introduced DeGise as someone "I have an enormous fondness for, for his public service and the manner of which he goes about his work every day."

In the Hudson County Democratic primaries, some candidates have evoked Menendez’s name while stumping, though the senator has steadfastly refused to endorse any of them. Sal Vega has said that Menendez, as a fellow Cuban American, inspired him to go into politics. And when Albio Sires endorsed Brian Stack at a press conference last week, he likened Vega’s attacks on Stack to the Republican 2006 Senate campaign against Menendez.

An endorsement from a political heavyweight like Menendez would be the shot in the arm the Hudson County Democratic Organization seems to need right now. Sal Vega, already a long shot candidate, may have deep-sixed his chances by trying to reroute the Cuban Day Parade away from West New York’s stretch of Bergenline Avenue, and Sandra Cunningham is enmeshed in controversy over a volunteer campaign worker who happens to be a convicted sex offender.

So could Menendez’s appearance with DeGise be seen as a tacit endorsement of the HCDO line?

A query to that effect was shot down instantly.

"I don’t really have anything to say about any of the candidates. The electorate will choose who they want," said Menendez. "I’m not endorsing anyone for any position in the race."

But Menendez was there, after all, which contrasts with Union City Mayor (and Assemblyman) Brian Stack’s campaign. An ad placed in today’s issue of the Hudson County Spanish language campaign newspaper Cine y Novelas contains a picture of Menendez and Stack shaking hands.

Alongside the photograph, a caption reads in Spanish, "Bob Menendez supports Brian P. Stack." Below is a shot of U.S. Rep. Albio Sires shaking hands with Stack and the caption, "Albio Sires supports Brian P. Stack."

Sires has indeed endorsed Stack in his quest for the state Senate against Vega. But Menendez has consistently stayed out of the fray.

"It’s not unusual for people to use pictures to create an impression of what I may or may not be doing," said Menendez.

The ad spot does more than that. It states that the U.S. Senator supports Stack and Column B, which refers specifically to the present campaign in which the candidate and his allies are embroiled.

While DeGise would not venture to call Monday’s appearance an endorsement, he was thrilled that Menendez showed up.

"I think it says a lot about our relationship that he came in here during election season," said DeGise. "He didn’t endorse me and I didn’t ask him to… I feel a lot of loyalty and friendship with the senator."

Menendez stays out of local politics, sort of