Republished courtesy of New Jersey Monitor. (Originally published on December 24, 2021)
The race to make sure Robert Menendez Jr. glides into the House of Representatives as Rep. Albio Sires’ successor is New Jersey politics at its worst.
It’s been just four days since Sires announced he will retire at the end of his current term, and Menendez — the son of Sen. Bob Menendez, obvs — has received the endorsement of Gov. Phil Murphy, Sires, state Sen. Joe Cryan, Hudson County Democratic Chair Amy DeGise, and nearly every major Hudson County Democrat, among others.
There are six months until the primary. There are no declared candidates. Zero issues have been discussed. Not one vote has been cast. Yet Junior has all-but secured the Democratic nomination for the 8th Congressional District, which means — absent an electoral disaster for the Democratic Party that even optimistic Republicans aren’t predicting — he will become the liberal district’s next congressman.
A better illustration of the power political bosses have over New Jersey elections I can’t recall.
I talked to Julia Sass Rubin, a professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, who has been critical of the process that allows a handful of party bosses to award their party’s endorsement and, with it, superior ballot placement. With the bosses on his side, Menendez the younger will receive a better spot on the ballot than whoever dares to challenge him, virtually guaranteeing his primary victory.
Rubin said the decision by high-profile Democrats to line up behind Menendez Jr. shows “just a few people hold all the power, and the voters are basically irrelevant to who gets elected.”
This reminds her of 2014, when Rep. Rob Andrews announced his retirement and, within hours, Donald Norcross — brother of South Jersey power broker George Norcross — secured the support of the Democratic establishment. Norcross won the primary, of course, and now represents New Jersey’s 1st Congressional District.
“This pattern of nepotism and lack of democracy is par for the course in New Jersey because of the political machines and the county line,” she said.
For me, what’s troubling here is not the nepotism. If voters have a choice and decide to go with the guy whose dad is famous, that’s up to them.
But this is about robbing voters of that choice. The parade of Democrats who announced this week — days before Christmas, as untold New Jerseyans are distracted by COVID panic — that they are backing Menendez Jr. is not about convincing voters he’s the best guy for the job.
No, this is about signaling to possible challengers they’d better not think of standing in the way of the political career of Sen. Bob Menendez’s son. We’re talking about a senator who once stood outside a courthouse and announced on camera that he is vengeful and has a long memory. Would you want to cross him?
I have no idea if Rob Menendez is the best person to represent the 8th District. But neither does the governor nor any other Democrat now racing to endorse him, yet they are paving the way for Menendez to join Congress without substantive opposition. The whole thing stinks worse than 13A.