Basing his endorsement mainly on gun control issues, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed Dennis Shulman for Congress against U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Wantage) in the 5th Congressional District.
“I’m endorsing Dennis Shulman because I’m impressed by his pragmatic, sensible approach to the tough issues, including how we strengthen the economy and how we keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals,” said Bloomberg in his opening statement to a twenty minute conference call.
But don’t expect Bloomberg to cross the river for Shulman, a blind rabbi/psychologist any time soon. Nor will Bloomberg film any commercials for Shulman like he already has for U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.). The Mayor downplayed the possibility that he would do any more to campaign for Shulman, and said he had not written him a check.
Bloomberg, an independent-turned Republican-turned independent, started a pro-gun control coalition of urban mayors last year with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. It includes Jersey City Mayor Jerramiah Healy and Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Specifically, while never mentioning Garrett by name, Bloomberg decried his opposition to closing the “gun show loophole,” which doesn’t hold sellers at shows to the same standards as dealers.
“They’ve walked away from the rule that, if the dealer loses his license because they broke the law, all of a sudden the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms says he’s no longer a dealer and can sell his inventory of guns on the streets to anybody. That’s like saying to a crack deal when you arrest him before you go to jail you can go outside and sell all your narcotics,” said Bloomberg. “This is insanity, an Dennis Shulman will stand up to change these things and his opponent, for reasons I cannot fathom, will not.”
Garrett, who by far is the most conservative member of the New Jersey congressional delegation, scores an “A” rating with the National Rifle Association. Bergen Record reporter Herb Jackson compiled the NRA’s financial support for Shulman, finding that the group has spent $15,000 on independent expenditures in his district – including $1,225 on a mailer last week – and has contributed $3,000 to Garrett.
The district includes large rural swaths of Warren and Sussex Counties, which make up the largest part of the district geographically, but two-thirds of voters live in northern Bergen County towns within commuting distance from New York City.
The story of how Shulman wound up on Bloomberg’s radar screen was only vaguely outlined on the conference call today. The two had never met before last week, although New York Gov. David Paterson has actively campaigned and raised money for Shulman. But Bloomberg said a member of his staff had read about Shulman, whose candidacy has been featured in national magazines and newspapers over the last several months.
“I never met him before. He came into the office the other day, but my staff has talked about him being one of the bright lights who understands that he’s somebody who has to do something about these issue, walk away from ideology and focus on results,” said Bloomberg, who added that “my understanding is he’s been surging in the polls as people understand what he stands for and what his opponent stands for.”
Bloomberg’s endorsement raised an issue that has not come up much, if at all, during the campaign. According to Monmouth University pollster Murray, there’s a reason why it has not: gun control is not a winning issue for a Democrat in this conservative district. Even Shulman’s Web site, which lists is stance on 14 federal issues, does not mention gun control.
So, while Bloomberg is a popular, bi-partisan figure whose image is broadcast into the 5th District every day on the New York local news, Shulman had to accept the endorsement with the caveat that it is focused on an issue he typically avoid.
“That’s an issue that a Democrat should stay away from. You’re trying to unseat Garrett on other issues, which he’s out of step with the middle-class, those types of things,” said Murray. “A Bloomberg endorsement probably means more to the people in Bergen County than a Corzine endorsement would. It makes a lot of sense for a lot of reasons. But bringing up gun control as an issue doesn’t many any sense in this campaign. Why bring up an issue that will cost you more votes than it will get you?”
Murray said that Garrett would be wise to throw together a last minute commercial on the Second Amendment, although the endorsement could help Shulman indirectly by providing a fundraising boost in the waning days of the campaign.
“They can put on a bigger ad blitz,” he said.
Shulman, for his part, said that, like Bloomberg, he’s the type of politician who puts pragmatism ahead of ideology.
“We don’t need more erratic decision-makers, but we do need more independents, and the Mayor has demonstrated repeatedly on behalf of his constituents,” he said.
So far, Garrett has not sought to capitalize on the issue. In response to the endorsement, Garrett Campaign Manager Amanda Gasperino offered the following statement:
“Mike Bloomberg talks about pragmatism. Where is Dennis Shulman’s pragmatism on taxes and the economy in a time of economic crisis? Shulman has publicly declared that he accepts waste as a natural bi-product of government. His tax and spend policies will take money out of the pockets of hard working New Jersey family and send them to Washington where he admits that they will be wasted.”