By Jeff Meyer
The year 2009 was a bad year for state Senator John Girgenti (D-Hawthorne) and yet it seems he didn’t even know it.
What did Girgenti –a man who has served in the New Jersey State Legislature since 1978 – do in 2009? Actually, it’s what he didn’t do.
Succumbing to the pressures of the anti-gay community, Sen. Girgenti voted against marriage equality legislation, sometimes referred to as “the gay marriage” bill. To rub salt in the wound, he also spoke-out on the floor of the Senate against the bill, with fire and brimstone.
Now, Sen. Girgenti does have a ‘D’ after his name. However, that ‘D’ stands for dinosaur, not Democrat. Cause his politics are truly prehistoric.
Cue the hero music. Enter, stage left, labor law attorney and grassroots activist Jeff Gardner.
His mission? To ensure that Sen. Girgenti and his politics become extinct – like the dinosaurs – following a full-blown donnybrook of a primary fight in district 35.
Unlike Girgenti, Gardner’s actually a real Democrat; he supports marriage equality legislation and a number of other progressive policy ideas. And, he isn’t afraid to be vocal about it, passionately vocal about it.
A labor law attorney by trade and a really nice guy, Gardner’s no slouch when it comes to politics. He recently took over the Hawthorne Democratic Committee, executing a political coup and rising to the position of Chairman. This was a wake-up call for Girgenti and the old guard in Passaic County.
Gardner’s young, energetic, and articulate on policy matters, and he knows how to work the room. Girgenti’s old, stodgy, disengaged, and doesn’t even know where the room is let alone know how to work it.
Some of you may have noticed the recent flap regarding the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC). Nothing big – just that Gov. Christie fired nearly all of the commissioners and got rid of some 70 employees, most of which were gaming the system for personal gain.
How does this apply to Sen. Girgenti?
Well for the past 30-plus years Sen. Girgenti has been serving as gatekeeper of PVSC. He’s the guy who stands at the red velvet rope like a guard at the door with a stern look on his face and decides who gains entry into the odoriferous halls of the PVSC administration building.
To his credit, Gov. Christie took a sledgehammer to this rogue agency. Unfortunately, the sledgehammer hasn’t yet made its way to Sen. Girgenti’s district office.
Gardner can smell the opportunity at hand; the opportunity to displace Sen. Girgenti from his perch, his gatekeeper status, and replace him with a Democrat who will actually act like one.
My thoughts on Gardner are pretty straightforward. He’s a leader. He’s a rare breed.
Democrats throughout New Jersey should flock to Gardner’s campaign. Because if he fails to unseat Sen. Girgenti, a long-term incumbent, it will reduce the likelihood of many other qualified candidates stepping-up to take-on the establishment within our party.
That would be a crying shame. That would keep us trapped in the age of the dinosaur.
Jeff Meyer is a democratic strategist and former aide to Assembly Speaker Albio Sires. He can be reached on Twitter @MrNewJersey.