POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Elizabeth Mayor Takes Wait and See Approach to Gubernatorial Run

For New Jersey delegates at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Charlotte last week, the focus was as much about the 2013 gubernatorial election as the presidential race. “Every four years at a convention, gubernatorial jockeying is intense for the party out of power,” explained Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron.

Several names have come up — Senate President Steve Sweeney, Sen. Barbara Buono, Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, Party Chairman John Wisniewski and Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Add to the list of possible contenders — Chris Bollwage, Mayor of Elizabeth. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider caught up with the mayor to find out what his intentions are. While he refrained from declaring his candidacy, he made clear what he thought of the current governor.

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Sounding like a candidate, Bollwage rattled off his list of accomplishments as Elizabeth’s mayor for the past 20 years including the hiring of more police and fire officers and the absence of tax increases this past year.

The most prominent name on the list of possible candidates belongs to another mayor — Cory Booker. The Newark mayor, who was a speaker at the DNC, spent most his time in Charlotte fielding questions about his political future and made no attempt to dispel rumors of a possible run. Clearly aware of Booker’s frontrunner status, Bollwage cited Booker’s strengths, saying, “he has the ability to raise an awful lot of money very quickly [and] he also polls well against the governor.”

Even if Booker were out of the picture, Bollwage said there were many other individuals who could “stand up and match up with the governor.” Also, the decision to run may not be left up to him entirely. In a nod to the influence that party bosses wield, he described the process of becoming the Democratic party nominee in the state of New Jersey as “interesting,”

“It’s a process in New Jersey where county chairman and certain power brokers who decide who gets organizational aligns, and that dialogue is going to continue for the next couple of months.”

One party leader who may be in his corner is Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-20) who Bollwage has known for 30 years.

“Sen. Lesniak is clearly someone who talks about the issues that affect New Jersey. And he’s someone who plays a role not only in state politics but in state government.”

Lesniak may have been instrumental in connecting Bollwage to South Jersey power broker George Norcross III. The two have already been out on the golf course talking politics.

“We look forward to a friendly golf game in the future and golf is a way to discuss not only the issues that affect New Jersey but the politics of New Jersey.”

Still, Bollwage said it’s too early to count on Norcross, or anyone else, for political support. Like the other possible candidates, Bollwage is waiting to see whether Gov. Chris Christie decides to run for reelection. Despite Christie’s popularity, Bollage said that in New Jersey, any Democratic challenger would start out with 45 or 47 percent of the vote.

“I think the election against Gov. Christie is going to be extremely close and I think it’s his attitude that people tend to fall in love with, chasing a person down the boardwalk with an ice cream cone is something that some people think is absolutely terrific.”

But Bollage is not a fan of the governor’s blustering attitude and hard-line approach to governing.

“I don’t think there’s a give and take process here,” said Bollwage. “I believe it’s Gov. Christie’s highway or no highway and clearly there needs to be more of a Democratic process where people’s ideas come into play.”

Refusing to commit to a timeline for making a decision, Bollwage nevertheless reiterated his qualifications should he decide to enter the race.

“Being the mayor is an executive position that clearly you get to focus on making decisions and the way we do things in the city of Elizabeth is — ‘bring me a set of options, let’s make a decision and let’s move forward with that decision.'”