NEWARK – They both come from the south, but the more common and, they say, compelling trait that South Jersey Congressman Rob Andrews and South Ward Councilman Oscar James II share is desire for change.
Already counting on the long-established North Ward Democratic Organization for support in his U.S. Senate campaign here in Essex County, Andrews has banded with members of the fledgling South Ward Political Action Committee (SWPAC) and will rally with them this Saturday at an event hosted by James.
The alliance looks like a natural.
As the Newarkers take on an entrenched South Ward party machine, and Andrews statewide simultaneously goes after an 84-year old incumbent, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), they both highlight the new-versus-stale narrative in their respective June 3 battles.
“He’s the youngest elected official in the history of Newark,” Andrews said of James.
“We’re very pleased that he has invited us to his neighborhood to participate in a rally with a significant number of his followers.”
Hitting the same buzz words, James celebrated the congressman as “fresh, energetic leadership we need in Washington.”
But the trouble for both Andrews and his Newark South Ward allies is not limited to the fact that the South Ward Democrats’ leader, Mayor Cory Booker, endorsed Lautenberg -not Andrews – in the Democratic Primary.
The deeper problem is that Andrews and the SWPAC forces are not aligned on the ballot, making their public efforts at change-time unity hard to transfer practically into raw votes on Election Day, especially when the camp literally lined up on the other side and looking to do damage is the powerful Essex County Democratic Organization (ECDO).
Terrence Bankston, Booker’s director of constituency affairs, had himself hoped to join the ECDO line as a Booker-backed freeholder candidate. When the ECDO instead picked Sen. Ronald Rice’s (D-Essex) chief-of-staff to run for the vacant seat, Bankston returned to the South Ward to continue organizing candidates for 80 district leader positions.
The mayor wants as many of those posts as possible, to generate strength in that part of the city where his support is weakest, and give him leverage in the face of Steve Adubato’s northern power base. For ward chairman, Booker’s running Tharien Karim Arnold against U.S. Rep. Donald Payne establishment candidate Lee Fisher.
Despite Bankston’s best organizing efforts, Essex County insiders say the chances of Booker’s people winning are not good. They are running in opposition to organization candidates lined up under Lautenberg, Payne and the establishment’s known freeholder candidates.
But it’s not the names alone that matter as much as their collective alignment.
“In Essex, line A is like Hudson with column A,” said Essex County Clerk Christopher J. Durkin.
Andrews does have line A-1 to Lautenberg’s B-1.
The difference is Andrews has no local allies running with him to buttress his candidacy and give him the connective tissue that makes Lautenberg dominant on the Essex County primary ballot.
“There are550 districts in Essex County, which means that Lautenberg is running with1,125 candidates on the primary ballot,” Durkin added.
Booker and Bankston, meanwhile, have local candidates, but bad ballot position and no strength at the top and middle of their line to give them the strong footing they probably need to unseat Payne’s district leaders.
The Andrews people argue that at least they aren’t buried on the June 3 ballot.
“I used to joke that I got 9 out of ten votes from people who were 3.5 feet or shorter,” said Michael Murphy, who in 1997 ran for governor against Andrews and eventual winner James McGreevey, and now serves as Andrews’s campaign spokesman.
“At least this time, we are side-by-side on the (Essex County) ballot with Lautenberg,” Murphy added.
Side-by-side, but alone – while the district leader candidates of Bankston, James and Booker vie from another corner of the June 3 ballot, onto themselves.
Although their messages resound on similar themes, a more painful storyline uniting Andrews and the South Ward Political Action Committee may be a simple case of a missed opportunity to join forces on the ballot.
“You’ve got to keep the message simple,” said former Essex County Chairman Thomas Giblin. “It’s hard to tell people in a primary to vote for two different lines.”
The forging of ties between Booker’s district leaders and Andrews would have placed the mayor formally at odds with the man he’s endorsed for the U.S. Senate.
But as it is, his people arein ballot no man’s landandifGiblin’s maxim proves true, that “you start yourballot in reverse, placing the local and county interests first,” that doesn’t bode well forBooker’s candidates.