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Losses in the Primary Leave Menendez Shaken

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Posted by Manolo on June 15, 2003 at 11:04:47:

Losses in the Primary Leave Menendez Shaken
That noise is Menendez's power slipping away

New York Times
New Jersey Section
On Politics


By Raymond Hernandez

Only weeks ago,
Robert Menendez
was at the peak of
his power: the Hud-
son County leader
whom many New
Jersey politicians
courted, the No. 3
Democrat in the entire House of Rep-
But on primary night, Mr. Menen-
dez may have been dealt the most se-
vere political blow he has suffered in
his rise to power, stirring a buzz
within the state's political establish-
Even as he remained a solid and
visible force on the national scene,
Mr. Menendez watched as a slate of
candidates he supported back home
took a beating in the primary elec-
The night's results would have
been bad enough on their own. But
the defeat came at the hands of Mr.
Menendez's biggest rival in Hudson
County, Glenn D. Cunningham, the
Democratic mayor of Jersey City.
The unofficial election results
from the June 3 primary also deliv-
ered bad news for a leading Menen-
dez ally, Joseph V. Doria, a former
Assembly speaker who lost his seat
by about 500 votes to Louis Manzo.
Mr. Doria, who is challenging the
results, sided with Mr. Menendez in
his protracted struggle with Mr. Cun-
ningham over who would control the
county party, according to Demo-
cratic strategists.
But for Mr. Menendez, the news
was even worse. Mr. Cunningham
won his own primary, getting the
nomination for State Senate in the
31st District over Harvey Smith, who
had the support of Mr. Menendez and
Governor McGreevey.
The victory was a testament to the
powerful base that Mr. Cunningham
has put together in Jersey City -
right under the nose of Mr. Menen-
It also helps establish Mr. Cun-
ningham, a former United States
marshal, as a force to be reckoned
with in state Democratic politics.
If Mr. Cunningham wins in No-
vember, he will have an even loftier
platform from which to challenge
Mr. Menendez. The tradition of sena-
torial courtesy, for example, gives a
state senator veto power over any
political appointment in his district.
Mr. Cunningham seemed to go out
of his way to taunt Mr. Menendez af-
ter the votes were counted.
"Not only did I win, but my whole
slate won," Mr. Cunningham said.
"What it means is that the time of
machine tactics is dead, and that the
negative campaign tactics that peo-
ple use is a turnoff to the people. Me-
nendez is a good congressman, but
he wants to be other things. He
shouldn't be trying to run cities, and
now, others are seeing that they can
be free from the machine."
Mr. Cunningham once called Mr.
Menendez "a political terrorist" and
demanded that he resign as head of the
Hudson County Democratic Party.
The defiance shown by Mr. Cunningham,
who wants to establish his own power
base, has been nothing
less than astounding, especially con-
sidering the power wielded by Mr.
Menendez, who has spent the last few
years tightening his grip on Hudson
County, a huge source of votes for
any Democrat seeking statewide of-
"He has used that position to grab
power for himself like a modern-day
Boss Hague," Mr. Cunningham said,
referring to Frank Hague, the Jersey
City mayor and Democratic boss
who ruled Hudson County from 1917
to 1947. "He has created havoc in
Hudson County."
The primary results were a re-
markable reversal of political for-
tune for Mr. Cunningham, who had
been an increasingly isolated figure
in Hudson County Democratic poli-
tics since being elected mayor in
2001 with the support of Mr. Menen-
dez, a six-term congressman who
played a pivotal role in the campaign
to elect Mr. McGreevey.
More than a year ago found him-
self on the losing end of a power
struggle between himself and Mr.
Menendez over who would succeed
the former Hudson County execu-
tive, Robert C. Janiszewski, who had
It would be premature to start
writing the political obituary of Mr.
Menendez, who stopped Robert G.
Torricelli's plans to seek the party's
nomination for governor in 2001 even
before they got off the ground.
But Mr. Menendez does seem to
have his hands full these days. Not
only does he have problems with Mr.
Cunningham, but he has also been
tangling with Mr. McGreevey.
A few weeks ago, Mr. Menendez
publicly rebuked the governor , ac-
cusing him of neglecting the Hispan-
ic community by withdrawing his
support for Zulima Farber, of Cuban
descent, for the state Supreme Court.
The governor himself refused to
fire back publicly. But people close to
him did not, saying that Mr. Menen-
dez was engaging in ethnic politics to
mobilize his Hispanic base in Hudson
County, where Mr. Cunningham has
encouraged Democrats to challenge
the congressman for his seat.

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