PASSAIC – On the day the Herald News endorses real estate developer Jose Sandoval in the mayor’s race, four of the five candidates sit at the front of a big room hugging highway 21 at a warehouse district debate sponsored by an alliance of community groups.
A fifth chair stands empty.
“I had other commitments and I had to make those commitments,” Councilman Joe Garcia explains later.
Garcia’s absence at the last debate forum before Tuesday’s special election fans rumors that either one of the campaigns of Dr. Alex Blanco or city super Vinny Capuana broke through and secured backing from the councilman’s supporters, thereby shutting down his campaign.
Garcia says no way.
“I am dedicated to winning and I’m working hard,” he tells PolitickerNJ.com. “I’m touching a lot of people and I’m knocking on doors.”
If Garcia’s no-show is indicative of no-game changer, for their part the Sandoval campaign basks in the Herald News endorsement, which they display proudly on poster board on a circular table symmetrically appointed with other Sandoval campaign literature: palm cards, CDs, flyers, pictures posters, etc.
The other tables contain a smattering of competing campaign bonbons, but they’re arrayed with no loving touch.
Earlier in the day, in Blanco’s headquarters, the post editorial mood is glum, grim.
Blanco had coveted the newspaper endorsement and to lose it to Sandoval, his fellow Dominican and arguably his most bitter rival, hurts.
But he swallows it. He has to at this point.
“This is the home stretch, and if people want a change, professionalism and young blood, I’m the man,’ he says.
He’s got Acting Mayor/Assemblyman Gary Schaer on his side. That’s the Orthodox Jewish vote. Now Blanco’s challenge is to bring in a bulk of Latinos.
They had hoped to blow away Sandoval and get in a dogfight with Garcia for the Latino base. If not a dogfight, then at least negotiations.
Now comes the Herald News endorsement. It gives Sandoval traction. Bad news for Blanco.
He sits in the back of campaign HQ in a leather jacket with a baseball cap pulled down over his head.
Oh, well. He doesn’t dwell on it. He’s out the door and over to a school event. He keeps moving.
The Herald News dismisses Garcia and Capuana as too enmeshed in the world of jailed former Mayor Sammy Rivera to offer credible leadership to a beleaguered city. They also write off bail bondsman Carl Ellen as an enigma who told the newspaper someone offered him a bribe to get out of the race but then clammed up when challenged about the story.
Blanco, say the editors, at 36 needs “more seasoning before he is ready to preside over the vast array of troubling issues swirling in the City of Passaic.”
Citing Sandoval’s independence from the long shadow of Rivera, the paper celebrates Sandoval’s “willingness to challenge the status quo, against great odds.” That might be “the best medicine for an ailing Passaic just now, and we believe Jose Sandoval has the best chance to administer it.”
The 72-year old Capuana leaves the debate forum early to attend his campaign rally in the 2nd Ward. He hasn’t been feeling well. He’s fighting a cold. But he keeps going. The people at his rally love him. When he enters the room there’s clapping and a big enthusiastic welcome for the long-serving School Board president who’s built up a base of citywide support over many years.
He’s beloved here.
His strength is evident.
If Capuana hasn’t worked a deal with Garcia, there are three city council candidates here at his VFW Hall rally who happily make the rounds in Capuana country: Geovanni Regalado, Diomedes Minaya and Jeffrey Dye. Ellen also puts in an appearance.
Passaic Count Freeholder Greyson Hannigan gives a stemwinder in support of Barack Obama and down ballot Democratic Party candidates. Former Councilman Marcellus Jackson, busted last year on bribery charges and now organizing for the School Board President, celebrates Capuana.
“If you look around the room, you will see all different ethnicities,” he says. “The God in him didn’t allow hi m to go with one group.”
“Capuana!” Jackson cries moments later. “Obama! Capuana! Obama! Capuana!”
Hannigan slaps Capuana on the shoulder. It’s an ignited crowd of Capuana supporters and soldiers five days before Election Day.