The presence of labor leader Joe Wilkins on the District 2 Democratic ticket prompted Team Whelan to march out of their huddle at party headquarters in Linwood Friday with an eye-of-the-tiger demeanor not lost on some of the charged-up labor reps in the room.
But over in Egg Harbor Township, engineer Vince Polistina was hardly impressed with news about the candidacy of a former assistant commissioner of labor who resigned his post last week to run for the Assembly. Polistina, a Republican candidate for the Assembly in District 2, said, "We need new faces in Trenton. We keep sending the same old people back there. We’re one of two states in the nation that are in the red. We need to put controls on spending and rein in the culture of corruption in Trenton."
"Joe Wilkins hasn’t held elected office," Polistina admitted, "but he’s a pretty high ranking member of the Corzine Administration. It’s not much of a change."
The Republican’s remarks provoked some infuriated union backlash on Wilkins’ behalf.
"Joe Wilkins has been fighting for middle-class families since Vince Polistina was in diapers," said UNITE-HERE local 54 President Bob McDevitt. "We've known Joe to be an honest, hardworking leader in the labor community and we have the greatest amount of respect for him."
Ed Gant, business manager of IBEW local 351, likewise took up the Wilkins banner.
"Joe is a man of integrity whose record of putting the interest of South Jersey families first, speaks for itself," said Gant. "He has the vision, experience, and compassion needed to represent 2nd district residents well in the State Assembly."
Playing on the labor-party synergy they stoked at last Friday’s Whelan-Wilkins-Blondell Spellman inaugural bash, the Democrats also battered Polistina, owner of a local engineering firm, and former planner for Galloway and Egg Harbor townships.
"It's at the height of hypocrisy for ‘Pay-to-Play’ Polistina to go after Wilkins. Insiders like Polistina who live off taxpayer-funded, sweetheart no-bid engineering contracts shouldn't be casting stones,’ said Wilkins campaign manager Raiyan Syed.
"If Vince ‘Pay-to-Play’ Polistina spent less time lining his pockets at taxpayer expense perhaps we'd have fewer Atlantic County families fleeing to Delaware and the Carolinas because of out-of-control property taxes," Syed added.
Not himself endorsed by labor but running on a ticket with labor support of its own, Polistina on Tuesday absorbed the counter-attack.
"It’s what was expected," he said. "But I think people will see through it. I think people see a young businessman with a young family."
To Syed’s charge that Polistina is a creature of the taxpayers, the GOP candidate said, "The work my company does is split half and half between private and public projects."
Beyond the party lines, the spat is indicative of an uncomfortable reality for Polistina or anyone in this unions-heavy district who takes issue with a union man – in this case a union leader. The 2nd District isn’t all union and the demographics are changing in high-growth times, but snipe at one of them, and the troops will come out of the trenches.