Boxing is an unfortunate and overused metaphor for politics, and for Irishmen in particular, who have to go all the way back to the erstwhile James "Cinderella Man" Braddock to locate a linear heavyweight champ from within their ranks, and who in the meantime have to endure the rap that Irish pugs take better beatings than they give them.
So when a well-roasted Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy went up and received the North Ward Center’s "Cinderella Man" award at the Breakers in Spring Lake Heights Friday, you could understand his reluctance to embrace the sports imagery already provided.
Standing there with a pair of yellow boxing gloves draped across his shoulders and former heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney looming over him, Healy stared out at the crowd of politician-peers and Jersey operators and found the happy, expectant face of former Yankees catcher Rick Cerone.
Healy seized on the baseball player’s affable presence to change the metaphor, quickly tossing out a joke that included a lead-in about how Cerone knows what it means to hit for the cycle.
"I’ve hit for the cycle too," said the mayor. "I’ve been a defense attorney, a prosecutor, a judge…" he waited for the beat then added, "and a defendant."
The last of these was a nod to his spat with the law last year outside his sister’s Bradley Beach tavern where the mayor ended up getting a face-full of mace, a bruise on his head, a date in court and a guilty verdict that he’s now appealing.
Healy stood at a podium beside Stephen Adubato, Sr., executive director of the North Ward Center – who hosted the bipartisan breakfast bash – who sat next to Gov. Jon Corzine, who sat next to Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, who faced a crowd that included U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone and state Senate Minority Leader Leonard Lance.
A moment earlier Healy had waited patiently behind a goateed Cooney as the boxer who once got blown out by heavyweight hotshot Larry Holmes regaled the crowd with a gag about how he thought he was at his Saturday Alcoholic’s Anonymous meeting, producing a chorus of nervous groans.
A man who unabashedly admits that he likes to drink, laugh, sing and spend time with his friends, Healy had a look on his face like a cagey old fighter who’s wondering if he’s walked into a trap – even as he walked up to the microphone.
"I could never be compared to the Cinderella Man," said the mayor. "At least he threw punches."