The 16th legislative district Assembly vacancy caused by the untimely death of Assemblyman Peter Biondi is resulting in yet another NJ Republican grassroots vs. establishment, conservative vs. moderate, battle.
The new LD 16 is comprised of parts of Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset Counties. Somerset dominates the district. The Somerset GOP is dominated by Princeton Public Affairs Group, perhaps the most powerful lobbying firm in Trenton. The current Somerset GOP Chairman, Alfred Gaburo, is a senior executive at PPAG. The former Somerset GOP Chair, Dale Florio, founded PPAG.
PPAG’s Republican members have deep roots in the NJ GOP establishment dating back to the Whitman-DiFranceso-Haytaian era. PPAG’s Democrats have equally deep roots in their party. PPAG and their clients are prominent among the “Who’s Who” of New Jersey. It doesn’t get more establishment than PPAG.
The Somerset GOP has lined up behind Hunterdon County Freeholder William Mennen to fill Biondi’s Assembly seat, according to Politickernj. Mennen lives in Tewskbury, part of the new 23rd legislative district. He will move into the 16th. Most probably he will move into a Hunterdon County town in the 16th, as his Somerset County support is very likely the result of a deal between the Hunterdon and Somerset GOP chairs. The other LD 16 legislators, Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman and newly elected Jack Ciattarelli hail from Somerset. Ciattarelli is a Somerset County Freeholder. He was nominated for Assembly after incumbent Denise Coyle was redistricted out of the district and decided to retire rather than move.
You really need a score card to keep track of the players in this district. Biondi’s death and Coyle’s decision not to move really messed up Dr. Alan Rosenthal’s theory of continuity of representation, at least as it applies to LD 16.
Mennen is an heir of the deodorant company that was founded in Newark in 1878 and moved to Morristown in 1953. He is the great-great grandson of company founder Gerhard H. Mennen.
The company, which was sold to Colgate-Palmolive in 1992, donated the land for the William G. Mennen Sports Arena to Morris County in 1973. G. Mennan “Soapy” Williams, grandson Mennen’s founder, was the Democratic governor of Michigan from January 1, 1949 through January 1, 1961. You don’t get much more establishment than Mennen.
Challenging Mennen and the establishment will be grassroots activist Bill Spadea of Princeton. Princeton is in the Mercer County part of LD 16, but the Mercer and Middlesex GOP organizations have little say in the race. They are minority portions of the district and the counties are Democratic strongholds.
Spadea was the 2004 GOP nominee for Congress against Rush Holt. In 2008, Spadea and his friend, biotech executive John Crowley, founded Building a New Majority, who’s stated mission is to develop Republican candidates for local, county and state offices through direct financial contributions and grassroots support. The organization’s pragmatic mission was widely considered to be the building of a network to support Crowley’s political ambitions to be a U.S. Senator, which have waned in recent years.
Spadea sent an email to Building a New Majority members last night announcing that he was stepping down as President to prepare for the LD 16 Assembly race.
While an activist with strong conservative credentials and relationships, Spadea is not a fire breathing RINO hunter in the Lonegan tradition. Through Building a New Majority he has sought to be a bridge between to the establishment and the more conservative grassroots Republicans. His bridge building could work against him in a primary. Establishment voters will automatically support Mennen. Conservatives may hold Spadea’s support of Rudy Guiliani in the 2008 presidential primary against him.
Spadea’s conservative supporters are already positioning him as the real conservative over the moderate Mennan. However that could prove to be a tough sell. Mennen’s record of fiscal conservatism as a Hunterdon County Freeholder is solid.
Spadea has little hope of winning at a convention to replace Biondi. If he is able to raise money to fund a competitive primary against likely incumbent Mennen, he will face a very uphill battle in a presidential year where Mennen will likely be sharing the line with the Mitt Romney, another heir of a Michigan governor, who will have likely have already locked up the GOP presidential nomination.