The freewheeling brash and authoritarian style of Donald Trump has party power players appealing – by contrast – to that elegant and genteel brand of New Jersey politician embodied by the likes of the late Millicent Fenwick, former Governor Christie Todd Whitman (Who says she will vote for Hillary Clinton sooner than back Trump), and former Governor Tom Kean, Sr. (though a lethal backroom political operator, he was elegant and well-mannered).
But New Jersey has a history of Trump-like figures: dominating political players who thrived on either bombastic and outlandish public behavior or a special hunger for power projection.
Here are ten of them:
No, he wasn’t – strictly speaking – a New Jersey politician. But arguably America’s greatest author hailed from Long Branch, spending the bulk of his first decade on earth in Newark by the Sea before his family moved to Brooklyn. Mailer makes this list owing to his unsuccessful run for mayor of the city of New York in 1969 on a platform of making NYC the 51st state. As part of his agenda, Mailer proposed medieval jousting contests in Central Park. But it’s better to let him speak for himself: “I’m running on a platform of ‘Free Huey Newton and floridation,” he infamously drunkenly intoned at the Village Gate, an appearance generally regarded as end of his campaign. “We’ll have compulsory free love in those neighborhoods that vote for it, and compulsory attendance in church on Sunday in those that vote for that.”
After he took on President Jimmy Carter, the notoriously combative tough guy mayor of Jersey City (1977-1981) received the title “The Mouth that Roared.” Once confronted with a Jersey City ferry service shutdown, Smith – a former boxer and briefly an NBA player – threatened to shut off power and
Trump routinely brags about his real estate accomplishments, and power broker Farley, the undisputed boss of Atlantic City from the 1940s into the 1970s, put his own thumbprints on a number of big key public works projects. Republican Farley was a prime mover behind the Garden State Parkway, the Atlantic City Expressway, the Frank S. Farley State Marina, and Stockton College,
George Norcross III
The South Jersey Democratic Party power-broker with a taste for the good life (helicopters, spas, trips to the Cayman Islands) has a Trump-like demeanor and even sports a mullet-like hair cut reminiscent of the billionaire real estate tycoon. Confrontational? When he wasn’t getting what he wanted, Norcross once got physical with then-Senate President John Bennett at the Statehouse.
The egocentric governor with a penchant for fine living routinely puts the best hotels on the public dime when he frequently travels out of state, a habit that goes back to his days as U.S. Attorney. His volatile temper first came most dramatically into view when he chewed out a public teacher-advocating passerby on the boardwalk, trying to walk the interlocutor down armed with an ice cream cone and surrounded by thickset allies. Of course, there was his “sit down and shut up” episode, and the finger wag lecture delivered at close range to a teacher, plus his infamous living-large romp in the box of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Flamboyantly authoritarian and outrageous during two decades as mayor of the City of Newark (1986-2006), James eventually got jammed up on fraud charges connected to loving the high life. Big cars and yachts were part of his expansive lifestyle. But he got things accomplished as mayor on the real estate end of the equation, including construction of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, the Prudential Center and an overhaul of the city’s downtown. .
You could probably make a good case for why he belongs at the top of this list. On the verge of getting arrested for embezzling union dues, the flamboyant former Assemblyman from Jersey City evaded cops by faking his own death in a scuba diving accident.
Indicted for mail fraud in 1992, the Mayor of Jersey City (1981-1985, and 1989-1992) said of his tormentor, then-U.S. Attorney Michael Chertoff, “Maybe I can find him a job driving a sanitation truck in Jersey City.” The ultimate deal-maker, McCann crossed the aisle to back Ronald Reagan for president in the 1980s, and didn’t mind creating havoc in the Democratic Party when his controversial presence ensured the creation of a second Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) that didn’t want to be affiliated with the one that claimed him as a member. McCann never stood on ceremony. “I’m a simple guy,” he said once. “You hit me, I hit you.”
Harold G. Hoffman
People complain about Chris Christie, but he had nothing on Hoffman (Governor of New Jersey from 1935-1938, pictured above). You think Christie is tough on reporters? Hoffman once cold cocked a reporter. That wasn’t the only time he put up his dukes when the media was around. He also had a flair for TV, appearing on a show called That Reminds Me in 1948. Corrupt, Hoffman in later years after fessed up to having embezzled $300,000 from the taxpayers of the State of New Jersey.
You like authoritarianism done up big? How about Hague, the boss of Hudson County and mayor of Jersey City (1917-1947), who once proclaimed, “I am the law.” This guy didn’t run for president, he put them in office. Never forget this tidbit in the storied history of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: his first campaign for president launched in Sea Girt, New Jersey, courtesy of Frank Hague.