Andrews faces his opposition in Bayonne

BAYONNE – When U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews gets out of his car in front of theCatholic War Veterans Post 1612on

BAYONNE – When U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews gets out of his car in front of theCatholic War Veterans Post 1612on 23rd Street, his allies greet his appearance with an enthusiasm that runs into a wall of Lautenberg motley across the street.

The two sides have been trading scattered verbal chest thumps for about a half an hour, with the level of public discourse never rising above the likes of, "Who’s washed up? Lautenberg. Who’s washed up? Lautenberg," versus "Who’s going to lose? Andrews. Who’s going to lose? Andrews!"

Now that U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s (D-NJ) challenger in Tuesday’s Democratic Senate Primary lands on the scene, the smaller Andrews camp tries unsuccessfully to drown out a renewed frenzy of put-downs coming from the other side.

As the congressman poses for pictures with his daughter, Jackie, and local supporters Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson), Assemblyman Anthony Chiappone (D-Bayonne), and Jersey City Councilman Steve Fulop, the Lautenberg surrogates lay down a continued siege of scorn.

"Typical of a campaign," says Chiappone. "We’re getting into the final days here."

Old allies Cunningham and Chiappone came together last year with the powerful Hudson County Democratic Organization, only to cut out on the party establishment’s endorsement this year of Lautenberg.

Fulop, an antagonist of HCDO Chair (and Jersey City Mayor) Jerramiah Healy, is also once again lining up with the underdogs, having last year supported Assemblyman Louis Manzo’s quixotic bid against the HCDO-backed Cunningham.

Their senate candidate has just come from shaking hands and talking to voters at a local shopping center, where he says the reception was positive. His campaign has flooded the area with $900,000 in New York television advertising and it’s made a difference, the candidate insists. People at the supermarket recognized him.

But as they prepare to go into the building now where the congressman plans to host a Town Hall meeting, the overall mood with the Andrews people hovers somewhere between resignation to street-fight politics, and disappointment in the presence of an animated enemy.

Their South Jersey champion has spent 70% of his campaign time in North Jersey, yet it remains country that remains mostly fortified by- and here the chants confirm it – "Lautenberg! Lautenberg! Lautenberg! Lautenberg!"

Before they go inside, Andrews suddenly breaks from his own lines and crosses the street straight into the Lautenberg hoard.

"The paid faithful," deadpans Michael Murphy, Andrews’s campaign chairman.

They’re kids – mostly high school and college-age, and when Andrews extends his hand in a gesture of friendliness and fair play, they jeer and catcall and shake their heads and signs and scream with triumph when Andrews at last shrugs and turns to head back across the street.

Inside the hall, a crowd of about 60 people listens to the warm-up act of Chiappone, Cunningham, Fulop and line "E" Freeholder candidate Mary Jane Desmond.

"When my husband passed away, Congressman Andrews was one of the few people who came to Jersey City to talk to me," says Cunningham, widow of Jersey City Mayor Glen Cunningham, who bucked the party machine and died of a heart attack on his bicycle while working to elect Fulop.

"Congressman Andrews reached out to me as a friend, and he showed me that he has character," says Cunningham. "In this whole political business the one thing that we miss too often in politicians and elected officials is real character, and it’s time out for that.".

Now Andrews takes the floor. He talks about his background. His father was a trumpet player turned dock worker. His mother grew up on relief.

He wants to end President George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy, specifically raising by 5% income taxes on those people making over $350,000. He wants to end the $10 billion-a-month Iraq War, reinvesting dollars in transportation projects, and sparking new industries around alternative energy, in part by requiring the government to use alternative sources of energy for everything it buys.

A man with a cane keeps objecting to every other thing Andrews says, especially honing in on the Democrat’s plan to hike taxes on upper income earners. The man says he’s a high school graduate who, dammit, worked his way up and invested in some energy companies and does all right for himself, and doesn’t want the government taking his money.

Andrews stresses that he wants to tax income over $350,000, not wealth.

Coupling his professorial attention to detail with face-to-face attentiveness to the people in the room, Andrews starts building some good feeling.

"My husband’s a WWII veteran who had to pay $184 for his prescription," says a woman of her husband, John Woolley.

"Uncle Sam should give him the money because he gave Uncle Sam his service," says Andrews, and the hand claps rein down.

What about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?

"Our solution to dependence on foreign oil is not to drill for more oil," says the candidate, and he elaborates on his plan to create an artificial market through government to stimulate transportation powered by renewable energy.

He’s riffing now from one subject to the next, and there are more and more hand-claps and the naysaying is scarcer and then a man standing in the back of the room demands to know why Andrews favors amnesty for undocumented workers.

"I don’t support amnesty," objects the congressman.

He wants a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, which includes the requirement to learn English. He also wants to require a biometric card for all visitors to the United States, which IDs their pupils and which, he argues, would crack down on the ability of undocumenteds to use false identification.

There’s skepticism in the room.

"Look," says Andrews, "I grew up in Bellmawr, it’s very similar to Bayonne. If you asked a roomful of people in my hometown if illegal immigrants should be deported, 90% of the hands would go up, but mine wouldn’t be one of them."

Such a policy would split families, he argues, force children in U.S. schools to break from their new traditions, or break from their parents as the young ones stay here, hopeful of better lives. Andrews says he knows not requiring the illegal immigrant to leave is unfair to others lining up and seeking entry to the United States according to the law: people in Europe or China or anywhere.

"But I don’t think we accomplish anything by sending that mother with a child in school, back to Nicaragua ," he says. "I know it’s not fair. But sometimes in government you have to choose between two things that are unfair."

The man who earlier objected to the tax cuts blurts out, "I agree! I agree with that!" launching another round of hand-clapping and banging his cane on the floor.

Chiappone, who wants Andrews to win ballpark 40% of the Bayonne vote to make these forays in here count for something come Tuesday, Election Day, leans over to hear another older man tell him, "He’s very good on his feet, this guy."

And maybe Andrews touched one of the young people screaming at him in the street, but inside the hall at least, he appears to have made contact.

Andrews faces his opposition in Bayonne