TOTOWA – Eyes glinting behind glasses with the usual Paterson pugilism, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8) stepped out from behind the wheel of a black sedan and walked into the flat factory building here at a workers’ town hall, sprinkling his speech with the same reanimated message every congressional Democrat is taking back to his district after the national debt ceiling imbroglio: jobs, jobs, jobs.
“We want to compete with the best,” said Pascrell, standing in the Knickerbocker metals machine shop where over the last five years the work force shriveled from 90 to 50 employees.
“I grew up on Knickerbocker Avenue,” added the congressman, a former mayor who still lives in Paterson.
This is the man many off-the-record Democrats identify as the best person in the party to take on Gov. Chris Christie.
They give many reasons, including Pascrell’s pride over the years as a champion of police, firefighters and teachers.
In the end, though, it adds up to one argument.
“He’s a tough guy,” said a North Jersey source, speaking on condition of anonymity, an ally of Pascrell’s, after listening to a story about the congressman (and former teacher) single-handedly subduing an auditorium full of rowdy Tea Party backers during the national healthcare debate.
“I was mayor of Paterson,” explained Pascrell at the time. “This was a walk in the park for me.”
When it comes to gubernatorial politics, however, the trouble for Pascrell is that to a man, everyone who says the combative, blue collar congressman would be the best nemesis for Christie also regretfully adds that the 74-year-old would have been the best not now, not in 2013 – but ten years ago.
Republicans are aware of that, too.
“He’s their most aggressive guy,” said a North Jersey operative, adding happily, “but his time has come and gone.”
As the congressional delegation heads toward the buzzsaw of redistricting next month that will ultimately dislocate one of them from his district, there is considerable speculation about an eventual loser among the Democrats receiving the consolation prize of organizational backing for a 2013 run at Christie. Team Pascrell refused an opportunity for comment at this time, saying their focus is elsewhere.
This past weekend, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6), for his part, said he had not ruled out a run for governor.
More than any other congressmen, Pallone and Pascrell both hammered Christie during the 2009 campaign cycle, most vociferously over the former U.S. Attorney’s use of deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs) in the cases of powerful entities, and his arrangements of multi-million dollar no-bid monitoring contracts for allies like former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
But whatever the combative, hands-on governor’s desire to menace either Pallone, Pascrell, or both, sources say simple population shifts make it more likely that Pascrell, not Pallone, would be more likely to get impacted by redistricting on its face.
A source told PolitickerNJ.com, for example, that Republicans generated a map that pits Pascrell against U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9).
Still, an ally of the congressman’s who lives in his district said the rumor about someone from the Congressional delegation running for governor is better centered around Pallone than Pascrell.
“I think Pallone is trying to keep it as a trump card because most people believe he’s the one Christie hates most, but I doubt he gets in….I mean can you really have three people from Middlesex all running?”
For the record, Pallone’s from Long Branch in Monmouth County, but his congressional district includes parts of Middlesex. The reference to three candidates is to state Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-18) and Democratic State Party Chairman John Wisniewski, both Middlesex-based pols whose movements continue to foster the notion that one or both of them will make a move on Christie in 2013.
While Buono’s allies continue to actively promote her as a prospect, Wisniewski wouldn’t comment when asked about governor last week.
Ensconced in the upper echelons of party power, U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-1) has demonstrated past eagerness to go statewide and may yet summon the will and organizational alliances to try again, but a source close to him told PolitickerNJ.com this summer that Andrews is more likely to keep planted in Congress.
When it comes to Pascrell, his allies make the case that he could run for governor and do it successfully – but won’t, not unlike Andrews because he believes what he’s doing in Congress.
“People make the remark about his age but if you’ve been watching him you can see he’s got as much fire in the belly now as he did back when he was Mayor and he’s still one of the best retail politicians in the state,” said an ally. “An older ‘truth-telling’ candidate like him (or a female candidate) would give Christie trouble because he wouldn’t be able to push them around with impunity like he did with Corzine. At the end of the day though Pascrell isn’t going to run for Governor because he sees how bad it’s gotten in Congress and how the extremes have taken over. That’s actually made him more determined than ever to keep up the fight.”
If Pascrell isn’t waving the gubernatorial run trump card heading into redistricting, it’s because he wants Congress again, insisted the source.
“Pascrell is more confident than most because he has a proven base of strong support in Passaic County so his feeling is if you want a fight he’ll give you a fight, simple as that.”
On Tuesday, the congressman underscored his fight to keep manufacturing jobs in New Jersey, and augment training for manufacturing professionals.
“I’ve been fighting for that for 15 years,” he said.