HILLSIDE – Scuffed up by headlines questioning how his organization raises money but hardly projecting anything other than friendly goodwill, Jerome Dunn walked up Belleview Avenue in his hometown in the early evening with two weeks to go before Election Day.
“Good luck to you, sir,” said a college student, newly moved here from Florida to participate in a full scholarship, referring to Dunn’s quest to upend incumbent state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20).
“Good luck to you in school – that’s more important to me,” replied Dunn.
“What a genuinely, genuinely decent man,” remarked John O’Shea, the political arm of Hillside Mayor Joe Menza’s local outfit, observing Dunn cross the road and head for another front door.
A squeak-out victor over the Union County Democratic Organization-backed candidate in 2009, Menza is an ally of the upstart Elizabeth Board of Education, which employs Dunn as superintendent, and which backs two other 20th Legislative District candidates running on a slate with Dunn in the June 7th Democratic Primary.
For Dunn and his team of challengers, the strategic calculation is to build on blocks of Latino votes in Elizabeth and Black votes in 46% African-American Hillside (traded into the district this year for Kenilworth) and 51% African-American Roselle to squeeze Lesniak and his running mates out of office.
A mayor without a council, Menza has a determinedly local focus as he fulfills his obligation to the Elizabeth alliance. He wants to pick up four Hillside wins this coming November to gain control of the governing body and accomplish something in time for his 2013 re-election bid. Two of his candidates, School Board President George Cook and local Realtor Queen Trotman, campaigned with him and Dunn on Tuesday night.
A Sunday story by Star-Ledger reporter Ted Sherman alleging nepotism and campaign finance strong-arming dogs the challengers affiliated with the school board. But Dunn appeared above it Tuesday night as he headed for another door.
“God is on our side,” he told PolitickerNJ.com.
Motivated by the mayor’s local fight for control over the Union County Democratic organization, Menza’s local candidates outpaced Dunn on the trail.
The Senate candidate has a bad back and prefers stationary campaigning. But he said he planned to continue to walk.
Following a decision by the state Supreme Court ordering the governor and the Legislature to find $500 million more for poor school districts, “We shouldn’t have to fight for that money,” said Dunn. “I’m glad we will have it, and yes, I think the millionaire’s tax would be a good way to pay for it. I’ve long said they should pay their fair share for public education.”