“All of the sudden, the world has discovered me,” says Mark Meyerowitz, the 52-year-old West Orange Republican who is suddenly on the political radar screen following the arrest this morning of Assemblyman Mims Hackett, his opponent in the race for State Assembly.
Hackett, who is also the Mayor of Orange, was charged with taking a accepting a $5,000 bribe to deliver a town insurance contract. He was allegedly promised an addition $25,000 after the contract was approved.
If Hackett remains in the race – two influential Democratic officials said tonight that they think he needs to go – then Meyerowitz, a financial planner with little political experience, could become a first-tier challenger in the November mid-term election. In the Essex-based 27th district, where popular Senate President Richard Codey heads the ticket, suburban white independents represent the majority of voters.
He could also benefit by the independent candidacy of Edward Marable, a Democratic Councilman from Orange and a Hackett rival. Marable filed for the seat in June.
While Meyerowitz says he can sense some new energy in his campaign today, he still wants to see how the fledgling scandal plays out.
”I don’t think Senator Codey or whoever’s running this thing is going to really let him stay on the ballot,” he said.
He’s also careful not to appear gleeful over the political opportunity that comes from Hackett’s situation. ”I’m not happy about the way it comes about, nobody ever likes scandal,” said Meyerowitz, noting that he has never met Hackett.
But the Republican says that people are beginning to take his campaign more seriously. Assemblyman Kevin O’Toole, the Essex County Republican Chairman, told PoliticsNJ.com this morning that Hackett’s arrest “certainly changes the dynamics of the election.”
"While it was once viewed as an uphill battle it becomes a new ground," said O'Toole. "While you hate to see this played as a dynamic in the election, it’s unmistakable that the public will take it into consideration in the voting booth.”
Meyerowitz said he hadn’t heard from the Republican State Committee since June, but received a call from the Assembly GOP today.
He says as a newcomer, he needs help. And it seems that the former Ross Perot ’92 volunteer wasn’t really counting on a real campaign.
”Up until now, all I was planning on doing was sending out flyers and going out and shaking hands,” Meyerowitz said. “As things heat up, I’ll go out and start fundraising. But I’m a low budget guy and I’m running a low budget campaign.”
A self-described pro-business, small government guy, Meyerowitz may not seem especially offensive to the Essex voters that regularly send Democrats to Trenton. He says he is pro-choice and supports gay rights. “I’m not in the national mainstream of the Republican Party, on social issues anyway.”
He says he decided to run because he’s concerned that young people, like his daughter, a college student, won’t be able to afford to live in New Jersey.
”I work extremely hard, my wife does too — and to see our taxes go up continually and the money tipped away from the state with no accountability, that hurt,” said Meyerowitz. “You hear stories about what’s going on with the contractors — the political contributions and my god, you’d have to be crazy to start a new life in New Jersey – you really would. Where’s the money going to? Where are all your hard efforts going to?”