New Jersey Gov Showdown At Local Meeting

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick Monday night in Cranford.

By John Celock

Cranford, N.J. – The next New Jersey governor’s race might not be until next year but the pre-gubernatorial sparks were flying at the reorganization meeting of a suburban town government Monday night.

The Cranford Township Committee’s annual reorganization went from ho-hum local government fare to the staging ground of the next gubernatorial race as two likely contenders for the governor’s mansion stopped by to conduct swearing-ins. While neither Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop (D) nor Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) talked about the governorship, both used speaking moments to highlight likely campaign talking points for the need for both parties to work together and for accountability amongst government leaders.

“We can disagree but it is not personal,” Bramnick said in remarks to the crowd. “It’s about policy.”

Officially Fulop came to Cranford to swear-in Cranford Township Commissioner Tom Hannen (D) to his second three-year term and Bramnick swore-in Cranford Mayor Andis Kalnins (R) to his third one-year term. Unofficially the duo were engaged in a time honored New Jersey political ritual of attending reorganization meetings in towns crisscrossing the state. Fulop has a total of nine meetings on his agenda, while Bramnick has been a fixture at meetings across his legislative district. State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) posted on Twitter about multiple meetings that he attended across his South Jersey base.

Bramnick and Fulop were not the only politicians to attend Cranford’s meeting. Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Summit), who represents Cranford alongside Bramnick, swore-in Cranford Deputy Mayor Mary O’Connor (R), while the audience included Union County Freeholders Bette Jane Kowalski (D), a Cranford resident, and Alexander Mirabella (D) and Westfield Councilman Keith Loughlin (R).

Munoz, who was invited to speak to the crowd, is not known to harbor gubernatorial ambitions. She used her remarks to congratulate the Cranford officials and pledge to work with local officials as a state legislator.

All was relatively peaceful amongst the assorted politicians, with Munoz and Bramnick welcoming Fulop to their district and Fulop posing with assorted Democrats. Bramnick and Fulop were seen making small talk prior to the ceremony and Bramnick used his remarks to note, “it is a real pleasure to have (Fulop) in Union County.”

Both Bramnick and Fulop have connections to Cranford. Bramnick has represented the township in Trenton since 2003, having defeated former Cranford Mayor Phil Morin (R) for the seat. Fulop attended elementary school at Solomon Schechter School, which was located in Cranford. Fulop conducted a fundraiser for Cranford Democrats during last year’s campaign, while Bramnick has been a fixture at Cranford GOP events since joining the Legislature in 2003.

Fulop, Sweeney and Bramnick are not the only candidates for governor. On the Democratic side, former ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy is traveling the state to ramp up a campaign, while state Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) has said he is considering a bid. Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) is said to be considering a bid. On the GOP side, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) is considered a likely contender to succeed the term limited Gov. Chris Christie (R).

Murphy appeared in Cranford in September, speaking to the township’s Democratic Club.

During his remarks to the crowd Fulop, a former city councilman who was elected mayor in 2013, focused on the need for local leaders to be accountable to their constituents. He channeled former New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (R), who had said, “there is no Democrat or Republican way to fill a pothole,” and noted that Cranford’s local government is bipartisan.

“It is a commitment and a labor of love,” Fulop said of local government service.