Waging a campaign for a third term, renegade Democrat Roselle Mayor Garrett Smith prizes his independence, but he may be even more independent than he bargained for this year in his race with Council President Jamel Holley.
Still, he insists it doesn’t bother him.
A year after soundly defeating Smith’s slate in his own re-election bid, Holley runs with the big ticket insulation of state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) and the 20th Legislative Team, and doesn’t apologize for the alliance.
“It’s certainly bringing a lot of attention to the local race,” Holley said. “It’s helped me locally because I’ve been able to leverage Ray’s record of accomplishment and influence both in terms of legislation and appropriation. I’m happy to run with Ray. It means more resources on the ground are helping us get out our message. We have a 25-30 person call center each Saturday. Garrett has no people on the ground except for the same three or four people we’ve seen for years. People want change.”
Always a political outcast in the Democratic Party, Smith now lacks the closeness of other outcasts.
At one time, he was allied with the Elizabeth School Board team that is running against Lesniak, but the relationship soured. Some sources speculate that it has to do with the fact that the mayor is up on charges of filing a false insurance claim, but others say Rafael Fajardo and his friends broke with Smith prior to the mayor’s legal troubles.
In any event, Fajardo’s Democrats for Change are allied with local gadfly Joe O’Halloran in the mayor’s race. It means a countywide conflagration between two organizations unaffiliated with the incumbent mayor.
Smith said he doesn’t care.
“It looks good in Roselle for us,” he told PolitickerNJ.com. “We have a lot of support and we feel our message is resonating. My focus is Roselle. I don’t have the resources they have – but I never did. We’re not at all impacted by what’s happening at the county level. There is a large number of small donors who continue to come to our breakfasts, but in every campaign I’ve run I’ve been out-funded 20-30 to one.”
Ultimately, the mayor insists, it all enhances both his political brand and his message to once again run as the political outsider.
“We are empowering people to control their own destiny, to not be controlled by machine,” said Smith, a slap at the Union County Democratic Organization-backed Holley. “We are empowering people to get involved in grassroots politics.”
Holley said Smith’s strategy of running as the lone gun has grown tedious, and people know the drill.
“What has Garrett’s independent random slogan gotten Roselle?” asked the challenger. “Anyone in their right mind knows having relationships will bring resources. My relationships with Lesniak, Cryan and Quijano has gotten us $5 million from the state to fix our flooding problems, and $1.1 million from Green Acres to fix our parks. He does not have those relationships, and it’s one reason he has not been able to deliver the resources – and I have.”
One ally Smith could generally depend on was U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, (D-Newark), who has not offered an endorsement.
“The flood project was put through years ago by Neil Cohen – interesting that Jamel Holley doesn’t mention Neil Cohen,” said Smith, jabbing at his opponent’s political alliance with former Assemblyman Neil Cohen, bumped out of the Legislature for keeping child porn on his computer.
“All the grants have come from me or my relationships – including $2.5 million in federal stimulus money, a half a million safe route schools grant and another $200,000 from the county for parks and playgrounds. I put forward to the council a proposal for a turf field, and he didn’t fight me on it.”
As for the perception that he’s more alone than ever, it does not take into account “the strength of the coalitions we’ve built with ministers,” the mayor insisted. “For me, winning Roselle is not about outsiders.”