Hudson County is deep Frank Lautenberg territory, but Democratic Senate candidate Rob Andrews came to the heart of Jersey City’s downtown today to hold a town hall meeting.
“We will expand the campaign anywhere people will have us,” said Andrews before holding court at a gazebo in the city’s Hamilton Park. “There’s one rule in the Andrews campaign – you have to be young at heart, you have to be willing to support us.”
The meeting was organized by the local councilman, Seven Fulop – a likely mayoral candidate next year and frequent critic of Jersey City Mayor/HCDO Chairman Jerramiah Healy, who supports Lautenberg.
Fulop has developed a strong base in the city’s Ward E, which is dominated by the partially gentrified downtown section. He has given the Andrews campaign access his 10,000 member email list and plans to dispatch 200 volunteers and 10 lawyers for on Andrews's behalf leading up to election day.
With the full backing of the county’s Democratic machine behind him, Lautenberg is expected to beat Andrews by a large margin here in Hudson. Fulop acknowledged that Andrews is not likely to actually win here, but that with his help he may be able to narrow the gap.
“Our job on election day is to try to keep it closer than it would be, and if we have the ability to do that, what will end up happening is South Jersey will pull out big pluralities and we’ll go from there,” he said. “That’s the game plan, and it’s great to see that he’s up here in Hudson and involved.”
Even at the Andrews rally, signs of Lautenberg domination were apparent. In tell-tale HCDO fashion, small groups of youth stood at the entrances to the park holding Lautenberg signs, although at least one of them had a hard time pronouncing the Senator’s name (“Vote for LOO-ten-berg.”)
The Lautenberg supporters drew up signs imploring entrants to ask Andrews “Why support the Iraq War?,” “Why support a fence on the border?,” and “Why support Bush?”
Fulop – an Iraq vet who left a job at Goldman Sachs to join the Marines just after 9/11 — said that he empathized with Andrews’s early support of the invasion. What matters, Fulop argued, is that since becoming a war critic in 2005, Andrews has worked to change Iraq policy (Lautenberg supported the war during his 2002 Senatorial campaign, but became a critic two years earlier than Andrews did).
“I’m a guy who wasn’t even registered to vote, and I went just based on the information as many people did at the time,” said Fulop. “I understand his temperament at that time.”
There are some interesting dynamics to the way the support for Andrews and Lautenberg has broken down here in the state’s second largest city. While Mayor Healy has put the county’s machinery to work for Lautenberg, every single one of Healy’s potential challengers next year has backed Andrews (save for Bret Schundler, a conservative Republican). There's Fulop, state Sen. Sandra B. Cunningham, Assemblyman L. Harvey Smith and former Assemblyman Lou Manzo.
Fulop, for his part, said that his support for Andrews has absolutely nothing to do with his likely quest for the mayor’s office.
“It’s totally divorced of it. I’ve asked for nothing, nor do I want anything,” he said. “I’d just like to see a Senator there who will be working 24/7 on our behalf, and that’s all I expressed to Rob Andrews, and I’m thankful he took the time to come up here.”
Andrews, for his part, didn’t say whether any of those potential candidates could count on help from him and his powerful South Jersey allies next year.