UNION TWP – The district didn’t change much – Elizabeth still forms its industrial urban heart – but it changed just enough to give the all-minority Democratic Primary opposition another battlefront.
And it wasn’t as if that opposition – the long entrenched Elizabeth School Board and its minions – lacked warpaint when it came to state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-20) and company – but mostly Lesniak.
The redistricted 20th picked up Hillside, the gritty South Newark town on the southern side of the county border with a 46% African-American population. The Democratic antagonists are running a slate headed by African-American school administrator Jerome Dunn, and hoping to use the organizational alliance of independent Hillside Mayor Joe Menza to enhance a Latino voter base in Elizabeth – a 50% Hispanic town – and triangulate the incumbents out of office.
“We’re walking every night,” said Assembly Majority Leader Joe Cryan, (D-20), the Roscommon proud Vailsburg product who turned off the main drag lined with Lesniak-Cryan–Quijano lawn signs, and parked in the shade on a five o’clock cul-de-sac.
A former Democratic State Party Chairman, Cryan didn’t go to Atlantic City tonight for a Democratic Party convention in order to maintain his walking regimen for the next four weeks. He doesn’t deny he’s in a dogfight against a tenacious opponent, former School Board President Rafael Fajardo allies Dunn, Elizabeth Councilman Carlos Cedeno and former School Board Member Tony Monteiro.
Tonight, he and running mate Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, (D-Elizabeth) went door to door in the Vauxhall section of Cryan’s hometown of Union, a middle-class African-American neighborhood where at least one Obama-Biden campaign sign still stood in the window.
Cryan knows many of the people here, where he remembers the line on Election Day 2008 stretching out the door of a local school and past the ballfields. As he recalled the sight, he spoke as if it was one of his best memories from his days as chairman, if not the best.
While Fajardo and his Elizabeth allies reserve a special disdain for the homegrown Lesniak, Gov. Chris Christie never makes secret his disregard for Cryan, who battled beside incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine in 2009 on his way to suffering a devestating Democratic Party defeat.
Fajardo was on Christie’s transition team and is a member of his state education commission. He assembled an entire school board to stand against Corzine’s re-election – a direct diss of Lesniak and Cryan, which put him among the forward ranks of Christie’s urban allies and catapulted him into Drumthwacket favor. At a correspondents’ holiday party, Menza and other Fajardo diehards could be glimpsed in the crowd, animatedly absorbing the governor’s remarks.
Not unaware of those connections and alert to the governor’s disregard as a member of a hobbled Democratic opposition that is not controlled by either South Jersey Democratic Leader George Norcross III or Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, Jr., Cryan pursues re-election as a dedicated Christie opponent and tattered prodigal son in search of stronger footing to fight his nemesis in the front office.