Winners and Losers: Aftermath edition

WINNERS Bill Pascrell By crushing Steve Rothman last night, 61-39%, the Democrat lifted not only his own profile, but that


Bill Pascrell

By crushing Steve Rothman last night, 61-39%, the Democrat lifted not only his own profile, but that of the City of Paterson.  The former mayor of the silk city turned a potential tragedy – the city’s loss of a representative in Washington – into a victory, as Paterson now becomes the center of the region in the person of Pascrell. Competing out of the smaller Passaic County against a suburban representative of Bergen, Pascrell, with his feet still planted in his hometown, on Tuesday became a representative of both Passaic  and Bergen – and a very small portion of Hudson. In the process, the congressman defined himself as a street-tested fighter with an authentic New Jersey voice, a 75-year-old seemingly endlessly energized to take on the Tea Party. By the end of the contest, Rothman looked like little more than a warm-up act. “He’s going to need more than jabs,” he told reporters, referring to his opponent. “There’s going to be a knockout punch waiting for him.” That turned out to be the shocking disparity of machine votes in Paterson despite Rothman’s effort to compete in the city: 12,912 for Pascrell to 733 for Rothman as Pascrell rearranged what on paper was a Bergen dominant district and made it Passaic-centric. Whatever mistakes Rothman made, it was Pascrell’s ability to capitalize with a peak campaign performance on all levels, including new voter registration, vote by mail, events, rallies, ad campaign, message, etc – that ultimately dominated the race. Pascrell’s staff – including Chief Ben Rich, Deputy Chief of Staff Assad Akhter, Director of Constituent Services Ritzy Moralez, and Communications Director Paul Brubaker –all shared a well-earned victory with the boss.

Scott Garrett

How is it that the darling of the Tea Party movement abides comfortably in a supposed blue state like New Jersey? He gets redistricted onto a collision course with U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman, who decides to challenge Bill Pascrell in a Democratic Primary rather than square up against Garrett. The end result is Garrett is safe –and still sitting on a commanding warchest. A Rothman run against Garrett would have likely engaged the DCCC in a NJ Congressional race and elevated to a national level a contest that a lot of Democrats crave. Instead, Garrett remains in his leafy comfort zone, nearly forgotten as a Hudson County Democratic operative growled this morning, “I can’t believe Rothman didn’t challenge that Tea Party guy Jenkins,” not even knowing Garrett’s name.   

Bernadette McPherson

Bounced out of contention for an assembly seat, the former freeholder went back to South Bergen last year and put on the war paint. Nursing a grudge over the role state Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-36) played in blocking her out of the assembly, McPherson found a perfect chance to go into battle mode once Pascrell came across the river looking for Bergen support against Sarlo’s candidate, Rothman. Other Bergen brands flirted with Pascrell and then backed down. McPherson never wavered, as she worked the blue collar river towns of South Bergen with clipboard and contact list for the Patersonian. Last night, in the crowd of Passaic County faithful packed into the Passaic County College gym, the South Bergen operative stood alone, smiling. An unknown but no less valuable political ally from Bergen, she helped net Pascrell a 40-60% vote total in South Bergen to keep him alive on foreign soil, while raising her own profile within the fold of the winning team.    

Mike DuHaime

A few months ago, the Passaic County Democratic Organization had the biggest warchest of any county Democratic organization in the state. Not now. The Dems dumped everything they had into keeping Bill Pascrell in office, even as Bergen County lost a fundraising beast named Steve Rothman, whose future absence from politics will boomerang on Bergen Democrats. It all adds up to greater opportunity for the GOP to build power in North Jersey, the result of DuHaime’s strategic victory as chair of the Republican Redistricting Commission when tiebreaking 11th member Dean John Farmer picked the GOP redistricting map, effectively eliminating a Democratic congressman and sparking the Pascrell v. Rothman send-up.  

Patrick Murray

The Monmouth University political scientist and pollster called the race for Pascrell, holding to his assertion that Bergen County turnout would be too low to match Paterson.’s own Mr. Automatic combines a pollster’s fixation on numbers with gut-level understanding of New Jersey politics to once again accurately call a race that many in the political establishment thought too close to accurately predict.

Sean Darcy

Dented by a loss in Bergen County two years ago, the former Corzine communications director regenerated this cycle as Pascrell’s always on point messaging expert. Always focused on giving his candidate the best chance to win, the 24-7 Darcy believed in Pascrell from the beginning, recalling the congressman’s aggressive general election efforts on behalf of Corzine in 2009.

George Norcross

Denied the Bergen County line for his U.S. Senate candidate in 2008, the South Jersey boss partly blamed Rothman, who along with U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez had talked then-Bergen County Democratic Organization Chairman Joe Ferriero out of endorsing South Jersey’s Rob Andrews. Norcross operative Steve Ayscue advised the Pascrell Campaign as Norcross, along with much of the rest of the Democratic Party establishment, cheered on a Rothman loss.

John Currie

The Passaic County Democratic Committee chairman secured his place at the front of the line among Democratic County committee chairmen as he helped land last night’s victory for home county Congressman Pascrell. The state’s longest serving Democratic chairman, Currie has put together a good run lately against three years of tough party challenges, including the retirement of Sheriff Jerry Speziale and Pascrell’s challenge by Rothman. Currie’s leadership helped smooth out the rougher edges of the Pascrell camp and maintain an alliance of diverse elected officials and communities. At the end of the election last night, Currie joined a gratified Pascrell onstage. Don’t forget, too, Currie has a great relationship with Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34), whom he backed in last year’s intraparty leadership fight.

Al Spivey

There’s a telephone in Passaic County Democratic Committee headquarters with a spider web design on it and Currie picks it up only when the organization is in trouble. It connects to Philadelphia and the office of a man known around Paterson as Spiderman. Going back to 2010 when a Jerry Speziale-deprived Pascrell turned to Spivey for GOTV, the urban campaigns expert – with Keith Furlong and Ryan Yacco at his side – has now racked up a 3-0 record in as many years. Paterson hit its goal of 15,000. 

Justin Myers

The presence of Pascrell’s campaign manager in the 9th District early prompted belly laughs among provincial types who dismissed Myers based on the fact that he’s from New York, not New Jersey. But the steady, not easily ruffled professional who last year successfully managed state Sen. Jim Whelan’s (D-2) re-election campaign recorded his second significant victory in as many cycles when Pascrell stormed to a win over Rothman.

Chris Bollwage

The longtime mayor of Elizabeth buried Oscar Ocasio in a non-event election he won nearly 3 to 1 and enters his name into party discussions as a serious 2013 gubernatorial contender. Like Pascrell, who also won big Tuesday night and who once served as mayor of Paterson, Bollwage is able to survive politically in a majority Latino city through a combination of alliances, political savvy and guile. By dropping an indictment on Board of Education President Marie Munn in the waning days of the campaign, Gov. Chris Christie’s attorney general may have spared the governor unease in the face of a Bollwage podium attack on the sitting governor’s political alliance with the Elizabeth Board of Education. But Bollwage’s victory in an urban center like Elizabeth may give the scrappy, City Hall-schooled Democrat enough traction to be a forceful contender.


When the Star-Ledger lie detector issued a Pants on Fire ruling of Rothman’s ad charging Pascrell with supporting a millionaire’s tax, Rothman’s closest advisors felt the lights dimming on their candidate’s re-election chances. and other media earlier called the Rothman campaign out on at least one other ad (the one charging Pascrell with cutting and running on healthcare), but the Politifact Pants on Fire ruling stirred up political observers everywhere to an emerging and disturbing pattern in the Rothman message.

Benjie Wimberly

He may be unwilling to talk about politics without referencing football, but the recreation department head now has a job as a coach in Hackensack, giving the first term assemblyman from Paterson a decided future congressional glow in a newly redistricted 9th that includes Passaic and Bergen. The winning Pascrell Campaign leaned heavily on Wimberly as arguably the city’s most recognizable African American leader and the assemblyman showed up at events typically energized at the microphone and always well-received by local crowds. 

Dave Parano

The longtime operative worked overtime to craft the Pascrell campaign’s Bergen strategy and was invaluable along with D.C.’s Field Strategies in helping to create the campaign’s overall field effort.

Brian P. Stack

In his ongoing Hudson County cold war with neighboring honcho state Sen. Nick Sacco (D-32), BPS felt a pang of hunger as he eyed what amounted to a battlefield on the other side of the world in Passaic. Sacco’s media gunslinger Paul Swibinski was on that frontline for Rothman and if getting in that fight long enough to dig a boot heel in on Nick and Swibs could satisfy Stack’s penchant for political war in this otherwise downbeat cycle, he’d get there. Add in a phalanx of buses and bodies primed for a lit drop on behalf of Bill Pascrell and Stack grabbed a win – and a dig on his backyard nemesis all at once.   


It’s hard to call the city a winner when a place numbering 150,000 and home to over 50,000 registered voters fields the votes of 15,000 and proclaims monster turnout. But with the numbers they got, which proved more than sufficient, the core Pascrell supporters brought passion in the face of grand disengagement from the process everywhere. Many of them receive government paychecks, full or part time, but with their congressman’s back to the wall they brought much more than simply fulfilling the basic demands of campaigning in a downbeat time. Members of the City Council, including Bill McKoy, Andre Sayegh, Anthony Davis, and Aslon Goow worked to re-elect Pascrell in their respective wards. State Sen. Nellie Pou (D-35) and Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-35), community leaders Miguel Diaz, Elsa Mantilla, Maritza Davila, Yaser Baker, Al Abdelaziz, African American church pastors and many, many others constantly contributed to a sense of solidarity in the campaign.

Steve Fulop

The 2013 candidate for mayor endorsed Donald Payne in the 10th District and kept the race close in Jersey City as he helped deliver 3,000 off-the-line votes to the districtwide winner. Payne lost by 900 votes in the Hudson portion of the district to line candidate Nia Gill, who ran under President Barack Obama and U.S. Rep. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).


Steve Rothman

The 16-year veteran of Congress imploded Tuesday night with an embarrassing 39% showing against Pascrell. The perception that he ran a ham-handed, micromanaged campaign could always be undone, of course, with a strong work product once in office. But Rothman lost, and lost big, and says he will not run again.  Tuesday’s drubbing and the poor campaign that wrought it are an ignominious ending for a politician once thought to be prime U.S. Senate material with feet in portions of Bergen, Hudson and Passaic counties.  We’re going to go ahead and throw this out there: It’s going to take a 1978 Boston Red Sox style meltdown to top this effort as the winner of PolitickerNJ’s infamous Worst Campaign of the Year award.

Paul Swibinski

The head of Vision Media racked up a pile of money as Steve Rothman’s senior consultant, but drew repeated media criticism for his quick splice attack ads that took Pascrell’s quotes out of context and tried to put him somewhere to the right of Scott Garrett. Those misfires became the issue at a time when Swibinski’s aim was to tongue-tie Pascrell while sharpening his own candidate’s message. The ads ultimately weakened Rothman’s, not Pascrell’s, credibility. Two sources told that Bergen Democrats began advising Rothman to dump Swibinski, especially as the Bergenite’s internals showed his poll numbers moving in the wrong direction, but the congressman went back 25 years with the Hudson County-based message maker, to Rothman’s first mayoral campaign in Englewood. There was loyalty there, and trust. Rothman stuck with him. By the time Swibinski unfurled his final ad, a network television spot highlighting Pascrell’s less than stellar record on the environment and designed as an election bunker buster, Rothman allies tried to grin through the pain of past Pants on Fire grievances and acknowledge the ad’s effectiveness. But the trouble, say the same sources, was that Rothman spent too much money on ads and messaging instead of combinations of messages, canvassing, rallies and dedicated GOTV operations and a vote-by-mail campaign to match Pascrell’s. In the words of one post-mortem operative, “Most of us just thought that the numbers would carry Steve, that he’d win by default. Meanwhile, the other side was doing everything right.”  Throughout the campaign, the internal critique of Swibinski was that he was running a Hudson, urban operation instead of one sensitive to Bergen’s suburban voters. In the end, Pascrell’s aggression in his home county overwhelmed what Swibinski argued was decent Bergen performance as Rothman collected 70% of the vote there but could simply not match Passaic.  

Bergen County

What you’re looking at here is New Jersey’s most populous county with a population that prides itself on political intelligence and wealth, but which next year – barring a Braveheart-like stand by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, won’t have a congressman who lives within the county’s immense borders. It’s an unspeakable situation for Bergen, which just took a beating from the smaller but tougher Paterson. This used to be the county where Joe Ferriero’s ring  forced the kisses of any number of political powerhouses statewide and beyond.  The mighty Bergen lies on its back now with Democrats desperately dialing Bob Menendez to figure out how they can get people motivated here, and Republicans terminally at war with themselves.

Gary Schaer

The assemblyman from the City of Passaic went against Pascrell and proceeded to watch in horror as his close friend Steve Rothman melted down irretrievably on Election Night. Sources said some among Pascrell’s inner circle were already rolling up their sleeves and ready to go find Schaer to mete out punishment to Passaic County’s version of Benedict Arnold. But in this case, that chilled to the bone feeling from last night may be all the retribution due the assemblyman. The fact is Schaer and Pascrell have never gotten along. Their styles are different. Pascrell’s a populist. Schaer is an intellect. More importantly, Schaer’s a great fundraiser for the party who has Currie’s affection and respect. He’s muscled his way up the totem pole in Trenton on intellect and skill and that benefits Passaic ultimately, so it’s hard to see Currie throwing him off the line. In addition, Schaer’s closest political ally, Passaic Mayor Alex Blanco, the first Dominican mayor in the country, stood with Pascrell and campaigned as a counterweight to Paterson Dominican elected officials backing Rothman. 

Jeff Jones

Already hopping around on one leg without a City Council, the mayor went into legless lame duck mode today as the most visible leader in the City Of Paterson to endorse Rothman over the home grown Pascrell. Two years into his term, Jones can likely look ahead to a miserable remaining tenure as the mayor who tried to tomahawk Pascrell in the back and ended up only doing damage to himself. The Rothman campaign tried to time Jones’ endorsement of their candidate with the arrival of former President Bill Clinton, as if to radiate all politics is local power. No one cared, as Clinton gave Pascrell a boost and the Patersonian destroyed Rothman in Paterson while further alienating the mayor.

Lou Stellato

The Bergen County Democratic Chairman has to claim some responsibility for the crater that is Bergen County right now. Stellato was coming off a big win last year in legislative and county races and is still well positioned to reclaim control of the county later this year. But he just lost a congressman, and that absence is significant, when one considers Rothman’s fundraising prowess, not to mention his federal contacts.

Julio Tavarez and Rigo Rodriguez

The Ward 5 and At-Large Paterson City Councilmen respectively endorsed Rothman in hopes of landing on the winning team. It didn’t work out that way as the City of Paterson powered Pascrell’s re-election and Tavarez and Rodriguez, like Jones, found themselves on the outside. Joining the ranks of the fallen were former council candidates Pedro Rodriguezex and Board of Education Commissioner Alex Mendez, who wrote letters to editors and cut You Tube videos proclaiming Pascrell as anti-Latino and anti-immigrant etc.

Nia Gill

The state senator from the 34th District never appeared to figure out how to connect with people, bragging about legislative know-how in Trenton while forgetting the most basic procedures of powwow. Few political insiders observing the 10th Congressional District Democratic Primary gave either Gill or West Ward Councilman Ronald C. Rice much of a chance against Newark City Council President Donald Payne, Jr. But her veteran status and Hudson County Democratic endorsement positioned Gill as the likely second place finisher in most people’s minds. It didn’t work out that way, though, as Rice’s aggressive campaign work rate coupled with Gill’s arrogance, no money and no calculation for victory other than being a woman sank her to a dismal third place finish last night. 

Mark Smith

Against the wishes of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who gingerly tried to keep Essex Democrats appeased by supporting Donald Payne for Congress, the Hudson County Democratic Organization Chairman backed Gill, who ended up enjoying her last good headline of the campaign when she landed the HCDO line. She would go on to get trounced, with Smith entangled in her dead-ended candidacy and Menendez irritated as bodies who showed up to work in Jersey City yesterday got waved up to Secaucus and another fruitless enterprise: the 9th District Campaign of Steve Rothman.

Bub Yudin

Heading into next week’s battle to retain his county committee chairmanship, the leader of the Bergen County Republican Organization already trails a political blood spoor from last night, when he lost his run for a committee seat in his hometown of Wyckoff. Yudin hopes to fend off two challengers next week and the fact that there are two of them and not one may be his best bet for re-election as he prays for what happened to Ronald C. Rice and Nia Gill on Election Night to happen to him.

Lee Fisher

In his bid to succeed his father as congressman in the 10th District, Donald Payne, Jr. won big in the South Ward on his way to winning the election, but longtime South Ward Party Leader and staunch Payne ally Fisher lost his county committee seat. It won’t matter, insist Fisher’s allies. A majority of members won on the Payne line against South Ward Councilman Ras Baraka’s forces, and Fisher intends to run again to lead the ward. Still, the sting of an individual loss is not what Fisher wanted as he heads toward reorganization.

Paul Sarlo

The state senator took a beating along with the rest of the Bergen County Democratic Party establishment last night. Sarlo was all in on this race and even had his chief of staff, Chris Eilert, serving as Rothman’s campaign manager. On the 36th District ticket, Assemblyman Gary Schaer was the only day in and day out guy slogging visibly for Rothman as Sarlo mostly privately sweated the result that finally wasn’t in Rothman’s favor. One source said Pascrell partisans want payback.  Winners and Losers: Aftermath edition