EDISON – Citing what they see as Gov. Chris Christie’s record of “vetoes and venom” and animated by national Tea Party trends they say are tugging the GOP drastically rightward, state Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono, (D-18), Metuchen, and her running mates formally kicked off their general re-election campaign today at Wick Plaza.
“A strong leader fights for the middle class – not millionaires,” said Buono, who over the past two years has established herself as one of the Republican governor’s most persistent critics, while simultaneously breaking ranks on the issues from the George Norcross/Joe D. brand of her own party.
As the team shows visible signs of being alert to an animated effort by an outnumbered GOP here in this strip mall-clad Middlesex County district, they also didn’t mind sketching strong foreshadows of Buono’s future statewide run at Christie.
“I get to run – I guess I’ll let the cat out of the bag – with our next governor, Barbara Buono,” exclaimed Assemblyman Pat Diegnan, (D-18), of South Plainfield.
The remark produced an outburst of applause from the large crowd packed into a store front here in this Route 1 strip mall, which included U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, (D-6).
“I don’t rule it out,” Pallone told PolitickerNJ.com when asked about the prospects of his own gubernatorial run in 2013, “but my focus is really my own re-election (in 2012).”
The congressman, whose district includes part of Edison, praised Buono as someone who “never hesitates to take on the bad guys.”
For the moment, her opponent is former Edison Chamber of Commerce leader Gloria Dittman, the Republican nominee for the state Senate, who issued a statement a day in advance of the incumbent Democrat’s kickoff that coincided with the state AG’s Office’s indictment of former Middlesex County Democratic Committee Chairman Joe Spicuzzo.
“It is unconscionable that Buono should keep the almost $14,000 in tainted campaign funds given to her by Spicuzzo,” Dittman said. “The corruption charges against him should have been enough for her to return the money when she was called to do so in March. Now, nearly five months later, I call on Senator Buono again to return the money.
“How she can justify holding on to it, after he and his associates are charged with conspiracy, official misconduct and bribery, is beyond me. Spicuzzo is not the sort of person who should be defending our streets and, if she continues to support him after this, Buono is not the sort of person who should be representing our views in Trenton.”
The quote indicated the GOP’s insistence, at the very least – on making Buono work for her re-election, and by every indication, Buono gets the message, as she repeatedly highlighted her decision to start her campaign early – with a show of force.
“We are going to make contact with 25,000 voters in the district,” said her campaign manager, Dave Lam. “We need to step up this year’s voter contact.”
Diegnan, who’s on the incumbent ticket with Buono and Assemblyman Peter Barnes, (D-18), dismissed the Dittman comment. “I got $500 from (former state senator) John Lynch, and my opponents wanted me to give it back,’ the veteran assemblyman said. “I told them, ‘I spent it.’”
In his speech to the crowd, the assemblyman criticized Republicans for being harnessed to a party tied to the national Tea Party and mired in futile fights like whether or not global warming exists. As for the Spicuzzo shackles on his own party’s record, he pointed at new County Chairman Peter Barnes, Sr., a former career FBI man planted in the position to help the Democrats vaporize Spicuzzo’s memory on the eve of an election cycle.
“He’s the chairman now,” Diegnan said.
It was evident at today’s kickoff that a vocal number of teachers happily support Buono, as they rallied around her amid “no bullies” and “Fight back with Barbara” signs.
“Teachers, police and firefighters are not what’s wrong with New Jersey – they’re what’s right with New Jersey,” Buono said.
Unsurprisingly, among the missing at the senator’s launch were Senate President Steve Sweeney, (D-3), and State Party Chairman John Wisniewski, two fellow party leaders with whom Buono’s back chamber entanglements have lately spilled into public view.
The senator broke from Sweeney on healthcare and pension benefits reform for public workers, the Senate president’s crowning cross-the-aisle achievement with Christie. Buono also mobilized a progressive army in the face of what she and state Sen. Joe Vitale, (D-19), identified as Wisniewski’s redistricting commission efforts to pit them against each other for Wisniewski’s own benefit.
“This is about grassroots organizing so we invited electeds from the 18th,” said Buono.