The last two weeks of what has otherwise been a sleepy election year have seen two Republican state Assembly candidates drawing fire for their remarks. While Anthony Cappola’s inflammatory self-published book sank his campaign entirely in LD38, LD1 Republican freeholder Jim Sauro is doubling down on remarks he made claiming that the Black Lives Matter movement is an attempt at drawing the lines in a “race war.”
Ben Dworkin, professor of political science and director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, said that he sees Cappola’s swift exit as an exceptional case.
“Candidates’ past writings and utterances don’t typically lead to candidates leaving the race early, more often it’s simply fodder for the opposition to run attack ads,” said Dworkin.
Though it’s far from certain that Sauro has shot himself in the foot in the conservative district, New Jersey has a long history of candidates speaking out of turn at their own peril. Here are ten times that New Jersey politicians have unwittingly sunk their own chances with rhetorical missteps and off-the-cuff statements.
1) Leo Carlin, former Democratic mayor of Newark.
Carlin famously undid his own 1962 reelection campaign when he said “beware the black hand” in reference to his opponent Hugh Addonizio, an allusion to the mob. The remark destroyed his support from Italian voters in the city.
2) Jerramiah T. Healy, former Jersey City Mayor.
In his 2014 campaign against successor Stephen Fulop, Healy unwisely commented on a 2004 incident in which he was photographed naked and slumped over outside his home. Healy claimed that a group of “three Hispanic girls, young kids” took away the towel wrapped around his waist when he went outside to investigate the noise they were making.
3) Former State Senator Sonny McCullough.
McCullough told PolitickerNJ’s Max Pizarro a joke outside a Chinese restaurant during his reelection campaign in 2007. Saying that he had seen an Asian couple at the mall whom he had married as mayor of Egg Harbor, McCullough said that when he asked the mother the name of the black baby in her stroller, she replied “Sum Ting Wong.”
4) State Senator Linda Greenstein.
Greenstein told a room full of voters “everybody in here is my enemy” during her campaign in the 2014 primaries, adding that she hated all of the Mercer Democratic Committee except for the representatives from Hamilton.
5) Former Governor Jon Corzine.
Corzine’s statement in the New York Times that he would consider revisiting disastrous asset monetization plans in order to address the state’s flagging economy played a part in tilting the scales toward Christie in 2009.
6) Former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Steve Lonegan.
Lonegan drew a wave of bad publicity when he questioned then-Newark mayor Cory Booker’s sexuality in a 2013 Washington Post profile. “Maybe that helps to get him the gay vote by acting ambiguous,” said Lonegan of Booker’s refusal to answer questions about his sexuality, going on to disparage Booker’s supposed penchant for manicures and pedicures.
7) Joe Merlino, the late former NJ State Senate President.
When the 29 year-old Chris Smith approached his incumbent Democratic opponent after a debate in 1982, Merlino was quoted as saying “Beat it, kid.” Merlino lost by three percentage points, and Smith went on to a long and ongoing career.
8) Former presidential candidate Gary Hart.
Hart hurt his campaign for the Democratic nomination in 1984 when he said of his wife Lee that “[the] good news for her is that she campaigns in California while I campaign in New Jersey,” adding that where she got to hold a koala bear while campaigning, he got to hold “samples from a toxic-waste dump.”
9) Former Bergen County Sheriff Leo McGuire.
McGuire called in to Howard Stern’s radio show in 2010 during his campaign and won over the notorious host by saying he had used martial arts in self-defense and holds a Master’s degree in business administration. Senator Loretta Weinberg expressed her disappointment with the stunt, and McGuire lost his post that year.
10) The late Ken Gewertz, Gloucester County politician
The fallout from Gewertz’s decision to go to the police and effectively go public when an Atlantic City prostitute robbed him of an $8,000 watch played a huge role in his eventual downfall. Fellow one-time Deptford mayor John Mayer recalled Gewertz saying that he asked himself at the time, “What would John Wayne do?”