Monmouth Dems relish APP Obama endorsement in context of county ground war

RED BANK/ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS- If Monmouth County Democrats don’t believe in trickle down economics they definitely don’t have a problem with getting some top down love from the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Il.).

The Democratic presidential nominee appears to be on cruise control in New Jersey, receiving a boost on Sunday from an unlikely source in this battleground county where the number of registered Dems grew considerably since last year’s primary.

“The Asbury Park Press endorsed Barack Obama,” announced Democratic County Chairman Vic Scudiery, who sported a tie pin in the shape of the state of New Jersey with an Obama logo emblazoned in the center.

“Obama has the intellect needed to comprehend the complexities of the times and the ability to articulate his positions clearly and eloquently,” the paper’s Sunday editorial read in part. “He can inspire, and we believe he will be able to bring out the best in the American people at a time when our best will be needed.

“He also offers the best hope for building coalitions and winning back the support of our friends abroad, which he recognizes is critical, not only to help win the war on terrorism but to restore order in the world financial markets.”

A happily surprised Scudiery walked among fellow Democrats in the Shore Casino in Atlantic Highlands at a “pre-Victory” party for Democratic freeholder candidates Amy Mallet of Fair Haven and Glenn Mason of Hazlet.

The pair are waging what Democratic State Chairman Joseph Cryan terms the most competitive down ballot race in the state against the GOP team – Freeholder Director and realtor Lillian Burry of Colts Neck and former Red Bank Councilman John Curley, now of Middletown.

In a tough fundraising year for both parties competing at the county level and with a little over two weeks to go until Election Day, at stake is party domination of the traditionally Republican county, population 650,000, and oversight ofa now $481 million budget.

If either Mason or Mallet wins, Democrats would seize the majority – and place Freeholder John D’Amico, not to mention Gov. John Corzine, Cryan, and South Jersey Democratic Organization boss George Norcross in charge of Monmouth, according to GOP hopeful Curley.

“John D’Amico would become the freeholder director and Democrats would put this county on a much different course,” said the vice president of business development at a local automobile dealership owned by his older brother.

“We don’t live in Monmouth County to have bosses running Monmouth County,” added the fourth generation resident.

Just because The Press endorsed Obama doesn’t mean the paper will necessarily back the Democrats at the county level – or even find a connection. Curley issued that wake-up call to his rivals when he reflected on the candidates’ editorial board meeting last week with the Asbury Park Press.

“The Democrats could not answer questions about how much money for their campaign is coming from outside of the county,” he said. “Glenn Mason gave two different answers.”

But for his part, Scudiery savored the moment on Sunday.

The veteran party chair haswarred with the Press, and watched the shore’s paper of record repeatedly back presidential candidates from the other team, most notably George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.

The Obama endorsement gave Democrats a decided jolt hereas the party faithful, numbering about 100, including U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch), picked up lawn signs and volunteered for phone banking to help Mallet and Mason.

“The arrogance we’ve seen in Washington is the same arrogance we’ve seen in Monmouth County,” said party spokesman Michael Mangan, who like Mason and Mallet anticipates a majority ofvotersin tough economic times picking Obama, thengoing straight down the Democratic Party line.

At the Shore Casino, Mason, a retired police detective, stood next to Mallet, a small business owner and failed Assembly candidate in 2007 whom the party resuscitated this year to run for freeholder.

Mason’s the street savvy guy who grew up on the Bayshore, a blue collar cross section of commercial and residential towns on the Raritan Bay. Askedto give an example ofa command decision he made professionally that might give voters a glimpse of his abilities as a freeholder, the Democrat recalled getting a tip from an informant on a triple shooting.

Past information from the same source proved faulty and others wrote off the intel as another dead end, but Mason pursued it anyway.

It proved good, and, “We closed a triple shooting we had worked on for years,” the retired detective said.

If Mason and Mallet by all appearances enjoy good rapport and are seldom apart on the trail, their Republican counterparts, by contrast, don’t campaign together in what has become a running joke in the county about the prim Burry uncomfortably trying to accommodate Curley the self-described shoe leather populist.

“If they can’t get along now, imagine how fractured it will be if they elected,” said Mallet. “If they try to work together in elected office it will only get worse.”

A state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) ally going back to their days on the Red Bank Council, Curley said rumors of a broken down GOP operation aren’t true, and no one ever tossed him out of a Burry fundraiser.

“Lillian has huge ceremonial duties as the freeholder director, and runs the political party circuit,” said the Republican candidate. “I pound doors; hit the bus and train stations and Dunkin Donuts. People don’t see us together and assume there’s tension, but we just have different styles.”

More troubling to Curley, he said, is the debt Mallet amassed during her last campaign. “If she can’t manage her own run for office, how can she manage the county?” he asked.

He’s also tired of the deference his opponents show D’Amico, a Harvard-trained judge whom Curley describes as simply the poster boy for what’s wrong with New Jersey government.

“He’s held jobs as councilman, freeholder, senator and chairman of the parole board,” said the GOP candidate. “All this man understands is living off the dole. Anybody who gets a paycheck from the government must answer to the people.”

Scudiery argued that D’Amico has compiled a distinguishedrecord in public life. “He cut taxes in every (elected official’s) job he had,” said the Democratic Party chairman.

Mallet claims the Democrats this year offer a pragmatic and credible budget plan, and while Curley has his own version of zero-based budgeting, “Our opponent, Lillian Burry, wants cuts totaling 10-15 percent across the board, but why is she suddenly waking up to that today when she increased the budget this year by $9 million?” Mallet asked.

Following their party Sunday morning, they left the Shore Casino – Mallet and Mason. The night before they’d hit a charity event in Marlboro, then doubled back Sunday night to Marlboro for a private campaign fundraiser.

On Sunday, sitting in a coffee shop in Red Bank and taking a break from pounding campaign lawn signs with his brother, the day after he went from one campaign event to the next, including an Oceanport pitch to an audience of mostly Democrats and independents, Curley said he hadn’t yet read the Asbury Park Press’s endorsement of Obama.

It’s Middletown. It’s Howell. It’s Wall. It’s Freehold Township.

That’s what he thinks of when he thinks of the battleground.

But in Joe the Plumber fashion, he said he worries about the Democratic presidential nominee’s tax plan, which increases the tax burdenon those making over $250,000, and the impact of that on employers and – consequently – employees, alike.

“We’ll get hit, big time,” he said of his brother’s car dealership, which employs 55 people, all of whom have decent healthcare through the company, according to Curley.

On the job, he hires people – and he fires people. The latter’s no fun, he admitted, but necessary sometimes for the survival of the business, and a good indication of the toughness he has, which he would apply on the board.

Obama doesn’t impress him.

“I have more administrative experience than Obama,” Curley said with a smile.

For theusually Republican-sympathizingAsbury Park Press in any case, Obama has the better action plan than the GOP at the national level.

But how that translates to Monmouth against the backdrop of a statewide Democratic Party majority embroiled in its own troubles, and the Mallet/Mason connections to the superstructure of their party, and whether those factors reach the freeholder contest meaningfully come Election Day, add up to a case of trickle down that’s still in the theoretical phase.

Monmouth Dems relish APP Obama endorsement in context of county ground war