By Christopher Robbins/NJ.com
October 11, 2013
RED BANK – Democrats left the Bates Elks Lodge #220 on Thursday evening energized and entertained, though one of their top-billed speakers didn’t appear.
Newark Mayor and U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker cancelled his appearance at the Monmouth County Democratic Election Rally after the death of his father, Cary Booker, Thursday afternoon.
“We learned about an hour ago that Mayor Booker’s father has passed away, he’s on an airplane right now,” Monmouth County Democratic Chairman Vin Gopal said. “We owe it to him for everything that he is doing, to make sure that we elect him senator in six days.”
A standing-room only crowd lent their enthusiasm to the candidates who did make it to the event.
If Democrats are to win statewide elections this fall, their victories may begin with wins in Monmouth County.
“I started out in Passaic County as the chair 20 years ago. It was controlled for 12 straight years by republicans, we did not have a single county office, not a single office was filled by a Democrat,” state Democratic Chairman John Currie said. "Since 1997, with hard work and perseverance, we have controlled every single county office and we never lost county control. You can do that here in Monmouth County”
Flipping Republican held legislative and county government seats was the rallying cry from state and county Democratic officials just six days before a senatorial special election and less than a month out from the Nov. 5 general election.
State Sen. Barbara Buono, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, used the opportunity to jab at her opponent, Gov. Chris Christie.
“On Tuesday, the governor said that he is who is and he’s not changing,” Buono said. “If that wasn’t bad enough news, he also confirmed what we already know, and we know his priority is coddling up to the conservative base of the national Republican party, running for president at our expense. New jersey is just a proving ground for Chris Christie.”
Most of the speakers, including Buono’s running mate, 1199SEIU Executive Vice President Milly Silva, took a more issue-oriented tone.
“The Chris Christie administration would like to present this illusion of prosperity, but the reality is far different than the picture they paint,” Silva said. “You and I know, you think perhaps of your own family, your own neighbors, people in your own communities, there are too many people under four years of Chris Christie who are out of work: 400,000 people. There are hundreds of thousands of workers in New Jersey who are struggling with the minimum wage, and lets be clear, $7.25 an hour is a poverty wage.”
Freeholder candidate Brian Froelich, a Spring Lake entrepreneur, said the story was much the same in Monmouth County.
“The Monmouth County Republican machine has controlled the board for 24 of the last 25 years,” Froelich said. “We have the largest unemployment in the area, an increase in poverty, especially among the very young and the very old, and decreasing population. It is not a good trend that we’re on, and we need to turn it around.”
County leaders described malaise and alleged scandals caused by the unanimously Republican Board of Chosen Freeholders and Monmouth County Sheriff.
“We’ve watched the Republican board over the past few years and we have seen the scandals go on at Brookdale Community College, where a president is now in jail, while tuition rates go up,” Gopal said. “We’ve seen Andrew Lucas out in Manalapan where the mayor of Manalapan got a million dollars paid for a farm deal he had, while the republicans all voted in favor of it. Issue after issue there’s been no accountability, no checks and balances, the republican party has been catering to the top one-to-two percent in this county while the 98 percent continues to struggle.”
County leaders tried to rally their supporters around Booker, whose Oct. 16 special election against Sen. Steve Lonegan is fast approaching, hoping to use that get-out-the-vote effort to springboard into the general election.
“We did receive some tragic news about Corey Booker’s father, but this is what we’re about as Democrats,” said Giuseppe Grillo, executive director of the Monmouth County Democrats. “When someone is down, when someone is in the throes of some kind of tragedy like that, we’re there to pick up the standard and go forward and work for that person”
On the legislative, county and municipal level, Democrats felt that Monmouth County was at a turning point.
“North Jersey has their democrats, South Jersey has their democrats, but Monmouth County, because we have so many republicans, we’re looked at as the black sheep sometimes,” said Neptune Township Deputy Mayor Michael Brantley, an 11th district senatorial candidate. “With this victory we will start a domino effect in Monmouth County that will turn this county blue. We need you to get those democratic voters out because we will turn this county blue.”
Democratic leaders said their strong slate of legislative candidates provides them with more chances than ever to flip currently GOP-held seats.
“We have 700,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in this state,” Currie said. “I am totally convinced that if each and every one of us do our jobs and do a little extra by reaching out, we can not only elect Senator Buono and Mayor Booker, but you can also elect all of these fine legislative candidates.”
Their best opportunity might be in the 11th District, where Brantley, Red Bank Councilman Ed Zipprich and Neptune Township Committeeman Kevin McMillan run in a redrawn district.
“Now the 11th is more Democratic than it has been,” Brantley said. “Now in the 11th district, Neptune, my town, where Kevin and I have been some of the biggest vote getter, is now the biggest Democratic municipality in the 11th district. We have more Democratic voters in the 11th district than we do Republican voters.”
All of the Democrats speaking Thursday night said turnout would be the key to their success.
“It is time to double down and call out the troops, I know you can do it Monmouth County,” Buono said. “We need you, we need you to more than you’ve done already.”