If U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) gets chewed up by corruption charges, his departure from the stage would boomerang into the 2017 gubernatorial arena with potentially hard consequences for Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.
Menendez has not been charged, but if the substance of a report by CNN materializes and the veteran senator is forced to resign, Fulop would find himself deprived of a major ally with considerable Northern party pull.
A dogged political animal with his own resources to play in and create political opportunities, particularly in local elections, Fulop nonetheless has found in Menendez an unabashed influential power player who wants Hudson projected statewide.
Fulop is now competing in an ongoing war of attrition with at least two 2017 Democratic Party primary rivals: Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) of South Jersey and former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy.
Sweeney’s own heft of office gets a boost from his alliance with South Jersey Democratic leader George Norcross III, a relationship offset on the northern end of the state by what Fulop claims with power pooh-bah Menendez.
While the political narrative leading up to 2017 is still fluid and Fulop has built considerably in Hudson, Bergen and Passaic, insiders count his relationship with Menendez as his best backroom resource to land the line in Essex.
Having played against the establishment in last year’s Newark mayor’s race, Fulop started on an uphill climb to win the affections of Democrats like powerful County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and Party Chairman Leroy Jones.
But DiVincenzo’s and Menendez’s cemented alliance put the county within the Jersey City mayor’s grip.
Without the U.S. Senator at his side in a match-up with Sweeney and Murphy, the Jersey City mayor could face balkanized prospects in vital Essex County, home to the state’s most Democrats in a Democratic Primary.