At Bergen County Senior Picnic, retail politics opportunity drives pols into the park

PARAMUS – While watching operatives for Congressional candidate Roy Cho following their man around with colored carnations, each tagged with information about Cho, at this year’s Bergen County Senior Picnic, it was hard to determine whether Tuesday’s event was a prime spot for fall retail politicking, a swag war, or both.

Cho, an attorney from Hackensack who is the Democratic candidate in the Fifth Congressional District, was swarmed by potential voters looking for flowers and a chance at conversation under the tree canopy at Van Saun County Park in Paramus. Kathleen Donovan, the Republican Bergen County Executive, handed out ubiquitous large green-and-yellow bags, while her opponent, Democratic Freeholder Jim Tedesco, tried to keep pace. 

A host of other Bergen-based politicians were also at the event, which has become an annual staple of county retail politics. Present pols included State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37), state Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-37), state Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), state Senator Bob Gordon (D-38) and state Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-39), among others. 

Amidst the free-stuff frenzy, some politicos spoke about policy issues.

“It’s important for me to be able to protect and preserve Social Security and Medicare. These are important parts of my platform,” Cho said. “My opponent, U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5), has a voting record where he has consistently been voting against benefits for seniors, which these people have earned over a lifetime. My grandmother raised me growing up, and she instilled values in me, including taking care of our senior citizens. These are people that we need to take care of after they have taken care of us.”

Garrett, who had a table manned by a solitary person at the event, was not present at the senior picnic. 

“We know seniors vote, and the main issue in everybody’s mind is always taxes,” said Donovan. “We’re here to try to gain their consideration on Election Day.”

“I come out every year. It’s a chance to meet constituents in a pleasant atmosphere,” said Weinberg, while representatives of her office handed out swag which included large blue plastic clips that were embossed with the words ‘Senate President Steve Sweeney,’ a potential 2017 Democratic gubernatorial candidate. “We hear a lot at this event about health care issues and property taxes. They also generally seat the senior citizens according to state legislative districts, which makes it easier for legislators. It’s a great chance to get name recognition.”

At the same time, retail politicking doesn’t always come easy.

“They told me over at the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office table that they had to go back and get more swag, because it was gone within 12 seconds,” said Schepisi. 

Picnic attendee Betty Weaver, 76, sat with friends newly in possession of politically-provided swag. At the same time, she sent a message to any candidate who thinks the senior vote could be taken advantage of.

“The honesty is the most important. It’s when they look at you and speak to you,” Weaver, of Mahwah, said. “I’d rather have them be honest and do their job than hand out stuff and be phony. Don’t tell us a bunch of crap. Be honest, mean it and come from the heart.” 

At Bergen County Senior Picnic, retail politics opportunity drives pols into the park