ROSELLE PARK – On a night of party revelry, two men here tonight appeared at least initially dejected.
There would be no candidates’ speeches at the Union County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner/Auction, and former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan accepted the news with admitted disappointment.
“First it was five minute speeches then three minutes and now we’re down to no speeches,” said Lonegan when he was asked if he would be addressing the packed crowd at the annual event.
A second candidate for governor, Franklin Township Mayor Brian D. Levine, arrived with an envelope containing prepared remarks in his jacket pocket, but there was no need, he learned from Lonegan when Levine walked in the door to the small but swanky Solar do Minho banquet hall.
“The candidates are mingling, talking to people,” explained Union County GOP Chairman Phil Morin. “They’re getting their message out. If we do speeches, we’ll be here all night.”
Then a third candidate arrived, creating instant buzz in the room.
It was Chris Christie, former crime-busting U.S. Attorney and frontrunner for the Republican nomination for governor.
He worked the tables, signed former Scotch Plains Mayor Martin Marks’s copy of The Soprano State, grasped the outstretched hand of Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce (R-Parsippany) and smiled at the leader’s greeting of “governor” on the same day he picked up the support of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and four days in advance of the Union County Republican Convention, where he’s a favorite to land the organization’s endorsement.
“The candidates will give their speeches at the convention,” said Morin.
When the chairman introduced the three gubernatorial candidates moments later, Lonegan and Levine received polite applause, while the GOP crowd gave Christie a hearty war whoop.
“I thought Assemblyman Munoz was getting up to speak,” Morin cracked later. “Fortunately, he’s just getting on the food line.”
There was one speech delivered just before Assembly Minority Whip Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) grabbed a microphone and presided over the auction.
The evening’s guest of honor was U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton), who defeated Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Fanwood) here in her home county of Union on his way to winning a vacant 7th Congressional District seat last year.
The new congressman told the GOP crowd to some scattered boos that in just one month, President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party Majority in Congress have succeeded in expanding the national debt.
Groansfast turned to laughter.
“I did hear from Sen. Tom Kean,” Morin said of the absent state senator in a playful jab at the 2006 candidate for U.S. Senate, who famously ducked Vice President Dick Cheney. “He got stuck on Route 1. Again.”
Bramnick took over, first trying to auction off a Nutcracker and dinner package that County Finance Chair Kelly Hatfield was the first to bid on, persisting even as the whip warned her with a grin, “You can’t use the money from the county on this.”
The place was packed. Busboys brought in another table and chairs to seat the standing room only crowd. Portuguese wine flowed.