On the day after a federal court sentenced Bill Musto and The Jersey Journal ran a front page, bold headline story detailing his fate, voters reinstalled the mayor by a wide margin over his challenger, Bob Menendez.
“This is the real jury,” the defiant mayor (pictured at right in a New York Times file photo) proclaimed to a crowd before heading off to do three years in a federal penitentiary.
Expect to see that same North Hudson defiance in the coming days and weeks and months, say Democratic sources, as Menendez faces federal corruption charges.
Musto was the political mentor of the man who would go on to be mayor and who would go on to be U.S. Senator, who today ate a federal indictment on charges that he accepted lavish gifts in exchange for political favors.
After serving as Musto’s aide, Menendez wore a bulletproof vest when he testified against the master and helped prosecutors sink the mayor on racketeering charges in 1982. It was then that Menendez and Brian P. Stack – two of Musto’s chief proteges – split and headed in separate directions. The younger Stack was loyal to Musto. Menendez broke free of him. The decisions they made at that time kept them on guard around each other for many years. Only recently have they begun to heal.
“I stand with Senator Menendez, recognizing the positive impact that he continues to have on our working class residents,” said Stack an hour after the Menendez indictment dropped. “Like all Americans, the Senator is entitled to a presumption of innocence. The public should question motives after reflecting on how this matter unraveled.”
In his ascent in public life, Stack stayed close to the street. Even when he was in City Hall as the mayoral successor to Musto, Menendez had a portrait of then-Senator Bill Bradley on the wall.
When he was mayor, he knew he would be senator.
Certainly, he wouldn’t end up like Musto, stuck and sunk by city politics.
And now, a source said, “How does he deal with this? Does he just go up on top of the George Washington Bridge and do a swan dive off?
What would Musto do?
“Exactly what Bob is going to do: tell them to go f-ck themselves,” a source told PolitickerNJ.
“He’s in a fighting mode,” a second source said. “He’s going to take it to the bitter end.”
Another source, a North Hudson source, couldn’t help but feel stung by the irony, given the part Menendez played in taking down the late Musto.
“You think of how bizarre it is that Menendez testified and did the whole bulletproof vest thing,” said the source. “It’s insane that he walked away from Bill. Bill fed the kid. Bob frankly turned on him. Bob in a smart way later made that part of his campaign in 2006. He said it over and over again. ‘I wore a bulletproof vest.’ He turned it into campaign lit – and then to have this happen to him. I got to thinking, while Bob was beating the righteous drum, did he think to himself, ‘this will never happen to me’?”
The source said he was chilled by the story.
“Bob Menendez combines intellect and street smarts unlike anyone else in New Jersey politics,” the source said. “He combines the best of both worlds in the sense that he’s educated and a smart street hustler. And he still ends up in a situation like this. It makes you wonder, is it a situation where lack of a moral compass sinks you no matter how smart you are, or is that you can be Stephen Hawking and this still happens to you because it’s just the system? This guy is brilliant. Obviously the goal in politics is not to end up in pinstripes, but this is going to be a $4 million defense.”