By virtue of party registration alone, Joe Ariyan is the underdog in the traditionally Republican 39th district, even if he has the backing of a rich and powerful county organization and is likely to outspend state Sen. Gerald Cardinale by a large margin.
But based on the flexing of fundraising and political muscle tonight, it’s hard to tell just who has the uphill battle.
The Englewood home of real estate developer David Kasparian, where the event was hosted, was a virtual who’s who of Bergen County Democratic politics. To support Ariyan, warring county party factions – state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joe Ferriero, and everyone in between — showed up to rub elbows at the swanky event, which was closed to the press. They were joined by U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, and Gov. Jon Corzine, who up until now had been notably absent from campaign events in competitive districts.
Ariyan’s campaign would not disclose how much was raised, or what the required donation amount was.
Still, for all BMWs and Porches parked in front of the Englewood home, Ariyan assailed Cardinale for the latest theme of this hard fought campaign: taking trips sponsored by banking lobbyists, then sponsoring legislation to deregulate parts of the industry.
“Listen: Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Florida four times, some resort in West Virginia, California. If they weren’t vacations, why didn’t they just hold it at the Sheraton Meadowlands?” said Ariyan.
On his way out of the event, Menendez mocked Cardinale’s response at a recent debate to the accusation that he took junkets, when Cardinale said that he would rather spend time at his Caribbean home than visit any of the places he was sent.
“He says that one of his favorite places is St. Marteen. It’s time to permanently retire there,” said Menendez.
Cardinale’s lobbyist-sponsored guest lecturing trips and Caribbean home are the latest aspects of what the Democrats’ attack on Cardinale have been all along- that the Senator, who’s been in the legislature since 1980, is out of touch with the changing district.
When pressed, Ariyan could name Cardinale’s stance on a few pieces of legislation that he thought demonstrated that point: Cardinale’s opposition to the creation of the position of state comptroller (Cardinale abstained during the bill’s final vote); his 1996 “Crime Reduction Act,” which would have allowed citizens to carry concealed weapons after going through a background check; and his votes against stem cell research, although he did vote in favor of allowing the public to vote on November’s stem cell ballot question.
Most of all, Ariyan said, was what he saw as Cardinale’s hypocrisy in calling for a new school funding formula.
“He’s arguing for a new funding formula, but he never argued for a new one when he was in power with Governor Whitman,” said Ariyan.
Although Cardinale does not consider himself an underdog, he often mentions how he will likely be outspent. Today he said that sources in Trenton told him to expect Democrats to throw $3 million towards Ariyan and his slate starting next week, which will include an ad-blitz on the coveted New York airwaves.
“That’s obscene for a job that pays $49,000 a year. Obviously they’re trying to buy the vote,” said Cardinale. “Watch, he’s going on New York television, which is unprecedented in a senate race in northern New Jersey.”
Cardinale said that he asked the Republican State Committee for $100,000, but isn’t sure that he’ll get the full amount. As of the last ELEC report, Cardinale has $215,000 in the bank to Ariyan’s $142,000.
Cardinale also disputed the notion that his bank-industry sponsored trips were junkets, noting that he was brought in as a guest lecturer and that prominent Democrats participated in many of the same events, like state Sen. Ray Lesniak. Cardinale said that he lectured at many out-of-state events sponsored by other groups, and disputed the notion that they were “vacations.” He described the trip he took to San Francisco to speak at a national real estate industry convention. He flew in the night before, grabbed a quick meal at Burger King, spoke in the morning and was on a plane by noon.
Moreover, Cardinale said, the banking deregulation bills he sponsored were merely for “house keeping,” and that most Democrats voted for them as well. He also noted a his sponsorship of a 20-year-old bill hat required banks to provide more security at ATM machines- something he said was unpopular with the industry.
“Consumers benefited from what was essentially allowing more bank branches in New Jersey, and some of the banks were against it,” said Cardinale. “What these bills did was allow more competition.”
And, not to be left as one of the few competitive districts where ethics complaints haven’t been filed against both sides, Cardinale mentioned that someone he knew (who he would not yet identify) is about to file an ethics complaint against Ariyan for billings to the county related to his job as public advocate for land use.