There's no question that 5th District congressional candidate Dennis Shulman is benefiting from a national environment that favors Democrats. But in his native Bergen County, which holds about 65% of the district's voters, he's faced with what could be a less hospitable environment for his party.
Last month, Bergen County Democratic Chairman Joseph Ferriero was indicted on eight corruption counts. So was the less-known but extremely influential general counsel of the party, Dennis Oury. The investigation continues, with subpoenas continuing to land in towns and agencies across the county, and Republicans think they actually have a shot at picking up at least one freeholder seat on the all-Democratic board.
Ferriero did endorse Shulman in the primary against attorney Camille Abate, which led to him getting the coveted organization line. But while the Democratic brand in Bergen may be tarnished, Shulman may be lucky to not be tied too closely with it. In fact, he said it's never been raised once to him by a constituent on the campaign trail.
"Not a single person I've spoken to throughout the district, when I go to the fairs or football games… have ever referred to it. My race is a national race with national issues," he said.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett has raised the association here and there. When State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-ridge) – a key ally to Ferriero – demanded that Garrett release information about his farmland tax assessment, Garrett's campaign responded by issuing a press release saying "Shulman has surrounded himself with consigliore's of corruption in Jeff Hauser, Paul Sarlo, Joe Ferriero, and Charlie Rangel."
When Former Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Torricelli made an unsolicited Shulman endorsement, Garrett's campaign released a press release saying ""Not only does Dennis Shulman refuse to denounce indicted party boss Joe Ferriero, he has now thrown himself in the ring with Bob Torricelli, one of New Jersey's most infamous politicians in recent memory."
But Shulman, while not disavowing the local Democratic Party, argued that it's hard to tie him in. The BCDO, for instance, has not held a single fundraiser for him. And Shulman has had campaign contributors from across the country, in part because of the national press attention his status as a blind rabbi/psychologist has attracted.
Indeed, Shulman won't reveal names, but he's even received campaign contributions under $200, which don't have to be reported by name, from more than one Republican mayor of a New Jersey town.
"If you take a look at our FEC reports, we've received financial support from a wide variety of people within and outside the district. I can't tell you who's a member of what groups, but I know we've received a wide amount of financial contributions from a wide amount of people – from all ranges within the Democratic party as well as undeclared and Republican."
It also helps that he hasn't ever run for elected office before, which limits his ties to the party, and, of course, that he's a man of the cloth.
Garrett Campaign Manager Amanda Gasperino did not offer comment for this story.
State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Demarest), who lives literally across the street and two doors down from Shulman and has to see his campaign signs every day, said that the corruption issue is a valid one (Cardinale decided to stick a Garrett sign in his own yard).
He spoke to a group of schoolchildren yesterday, one of him asked him how many state Senator he knew who had been indicted.
"I started going through. There were seven or eight who were either indicted, on trial or convicted, and it just happened they were all Democrats," he said.
Cardinale did not insinuate that Shulman had done anything unethical or was linked with Ferriero in any improper way, but he characterized the corruption problem as, for the most part, endemic to the Democratic Party.
"Sure, it's more difficult because he's a clergyman, among other things. But let's face it. [former Assemblyman] Al Steele was a clergyman. You could have knocked me over with a feather when he was indicted."
Cardinale said that Garrett is right not to focus too heavily on alleged corruption among Bergen County Democrats, since voters are more concerned with the economy.
"What I think he ought to be focusing on mostly is that he votes against appropriations bills."
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), who's proven a far more serious foe to Ferriero in recent years than local Republicans, said that Shulman shouldn't be associated with the machine.
"He hasn't even been, to my knowledge, involved at that level of the party," she said. "Dennis Shulman became a candidate on his own. He was not solicited by the on-leave county leader. He came forth in what everybody knew was going to be a very difficult district, and he's run a really classy, aggressive campaign."