A ferocious battle for Democratic control of Middlesex County has more than jangled the cages of some of the party’s most powerful Central Jersey pit bosses, who side with either labor leader Kevin McCabe of Woodbridge or former Assemblyman Peter Barnes of Edison in a contest to be decided in a few hours on the side of a highway in Barnes country.
You don’t have to poke too hard to run into the party loyalty argument.
“We need a rock of stability in Middlesex County,” said Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19) of Sayreville, a Barnes backer. “Peter is an unabashed Democrat whose Democratic Party bona fides are never in doubt.”
The longtime intraparty foe of Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac then took a glancing dig at McCormac’s party cred.
“You’re not going to see Peter Barnes strolling down the street with the governor,” said Wisniewski, a reference to the Woodbridge mayor’s public downtown jaunt with Gov. Chris Christie a day after Christie beat up Democrat Jon Corzine in Woodbridge. “You’re not going to have any doubts about which side Peter Barnes is on.”
Mayor Frank Gambatese of South Brunswick likewise doesn’t mind taking a side in tonight’s Middlesex County Democratic Committee fight for a new chairman, also invoking the comfort zone quality of the veteran Barnes.
Gambatese has been around long enough to remember former state Sen. John Lynch in handcuffs, an image uncomfortably refreshed by former Chairman Joe Spicuzzo turning himself in to authorities earlier this year.
Former Assemblyman Peter Barnes is a former FBI guy more adept at clamping cuffs.
“I’m supporting Mr. Barnes,” said Gambatese. “The position I’m taking is the governor of the State of New Jersey has decided to attack Middlesex as one of the most corrupt in the state. Mr. Barnes is a person who is upright in his ethics and that’s what the county needs at this time.”
That’s more or less Monroe Mayor Richard Pucci’s reasoning, too.
“I’m backing Barnes, because from the beginning we needed someone with the experience and image to put it in the right perspective for the next couple of years,” said Pucci. “Sometimes it’s a new face, sure, but other times you need stability. That’s Barnes. McCabe has knowledge of the county but between the two, Barnes is a better fit for us right now. This is a personal decision I made from the get-go. You hate to see a fight like this but it’s there and it’s real.”
There are over 1,000 filled committee seats. Pucci said he estimates there will be about 900 votes at the ready tonight.
“I would think in Monroe we’ll get out 50-plus seats solid behind Barnes,” said the veteran mayor.
McCabe’s hometown of Woodbridge is going to lock up behind him, say sources, good for 125-130 votes.
“I think the wild card is Edison,” said Pucci. McCormac forged a strong alliance with Mayor Toni Ricigliano, but the mayor’s staying out of the fight, at least publicly. The town’s in an uproar and she doesn’t want to step in the middle of it.
Barnes is also from Edison. Moreover, former Edison Mayor Jun Choi, who chewed into the county committee with 30 votes during his one term in office, supports Barnes.