The election of 1962 in the city of Newark, New Jersey, was ugly. It got to be a contest of ethnic prejudice. The city was mostly black, but black people were pretty much powerless. The majority were confined to the Central Ward. The opportunity for gerrymandering was a great temptation for those in power, and who very much wanted to stay in power.
There were 50 members on the city council. Only 6 of those 50 were black. Black people were, to put it plainly, not a political consideration.
The contest for mayor was considered to be between Irish and Italian neighborhoods. Leo Carlin was the incumbent mayor. He represented the Irish power structure.
The mayor was challenged by Hugh Addonizio. Addonizio was considered a sort of unification candidate. He was Italian who lived in an Irish neighborhood. He was married to an Irish spouse. He was a war hero with roots in Newark going way back. His father was the owner of a successful clothing business.
It was an unequal contest. Mayor Carlin had used every bit of his power to promote city building projects. That made him popular in the business community.
Addonizio pointed out that those building projects were an invitation for official corruption. He was the honest outsider running against the machine.
Still, Carlin’s business backers and community ties gave him an edge. Just to be sure, he began stressing his ethnic background. He warned Irish crowds that a vote for Addonizio would be a vote against one of their own. They didn’t want an Italian in office, did they?
Carlin’s lead grew. He began to look like a sure thing.
Then God intervened.
It was later called the Storm that Swallowed the Jersey Shore. Snow covered everything. Then snow covered the snow, then covered the snowbanks with more snow. Up and down the Atlantic coast, 45,000 buildings were demolished. It was 72 hours of white hell.
At the time, I lived several hundred miles north of New Jersey. I remember, as a kid, walking through plowed sidewalks that had become narrow valleys of snow. It was like walking through a series of hallways.
Newark was hard hit. So Mayor Carlin took quick action. He put qualified people in charge, then took off for Florida.
Those Newark residents who were without electric power and who could get hold of a newspaper, saw pictures of their mayor wearing trunks sitting next to a swimming pool in Miami. The beverage he drank may have been lemonade.
Most of those who did have power had television. There was extensive coverage of Mayor Carlin enjoying his sunny vacation while voters were stuck in their homes, glancing worriedly through windows at the descending white mountain of cold suffering.
When election day came, Mayor Carlin became Citizen Carlin. Hugh Addonizio was the new Mayor of Newark.
I thought about Mayor Carlin when snow hit Newark again a few years ago in 2010. Cory Booker was Mayor. He was not in Florida. Newark residents, stuck in their homes, watched on television or saw the internet, as Mayor Booker pushed through the snowy streets of their city. They saw him delivering diapers, shoveling snow, aiding in a medical emergency, even helping to deliver a baby. They listened as he begged for volunteers, then saw him lead those volunteers to residents who needed help.
Mayor Cory Booker became very-very-popular-Mayor Cory Booker.
I was amazed at the political resiliency of Governor Chris Christie in 2010. As Cory Booker multi-tasked on the streets of Newark, Governor Christie saw reports of that historic snow storm as it approached, and took off for Disney World. His Lieutenant Governor, Kim Guadagno, saw reports of the same approaching storm and took off for vacation in sunny New Mexico.
For some reason, perhaps some permutation of the news cycle, or some overriding local news story, the jaunt to Disney World did not seem to affect the popularity of the Governor.
Perhaps voter tolerance had grown past the point at which a single snowstorm can provoke the electorate. Or maybe citizens simply required a double dose of symbolic abuse.
The Governor has been at war with the New Jersey legislature of late. They had failed to pass the state budget that state law requires of them. They had gotten no leadership, no guidance of any kind, from the Governor. He had, however, offered an incentive.
He closed all state run public beaches. Then, on the beach outside of his home, he and his family went on a lonely outing, relaxing in the sun. They had the entire public shore at Island Beach State Park, all of it, all to themselves.
The Governor denied the story. Well, he sort of denied it.
I didn’t get any sun today.
Governor Chris Christie, July 2, 2017
But New Jersey’s most widely circulated newspaper, the Star-Ledger, had sent a photographer up in a plane. Statewide news outlets carried the photos of the Governor lounging in a beach chair.
Could it get any worse? A spokesperson for the Governor explained that the Governor had been telling the absolute truth – I didn’t get any sun today – because he had been wearing a baseball cap. Yeah, that would make it worse.
It is an astonishing bit of public relations. All of New Jersey is in a state of outrage. In the Governor’s defense, he and his family and any guests are allowed because he actually owns a house next to the beach. Well, actually, it’s a house provided to the Governor by the taxpayers of New Jersey. The Governor explained:
The Governor is allowed to go to his residences. And I’m at my residence.
News outlets carried footage of Governor Christie … how to put it … kind of gloating about going where he had ordered nobody else be allowed to go.
The Governor has a residence at island beach. Others don’t. That’s the way it goes. Run for governor, and you can have the residence.
It seemed like a sort of doomsday political move, about the worst possible. Then it turned out that the worst was just arriving. Six other families with cottages next to that same beach were ordered out. If they did not vacate their homes, Governor Christie would have them arrested.
If Chris Christie had been plotting against himself, he would seem to have succeeded in political self-destruction. He remains popular among 15% of New Jersey voters. That is not a misprint. Fifteen percent.
Times do change in politics. Just look at Newark’s mayors.
Newark’s Mayor Hugh Addonizio turned out to be much more corrupt than the Mayor he accused of corruption. His take went past six figures. He was convicted and eventually served five years of a ten year sentence. He is still known as Newark’s Million Dollar Mayor.
Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker turned out to be the one for whom Diogenes had been searching, lantern in hand, all those thousands of years. Pathologically honest, Cory Booker is now known as Senator Booker.
Newark’s Mayor Leo Carlin was known from 1962 onward as Newark’s Son of Florida.
And New Jersey Governor Chris Christie? The man photographed with family enjoying themselves on an otherwise vacant beach, the one who had his neighbors evicted from their homes?
He is not known as a straight-arrow Senator. That would be Cory Booker.
He is not known as a corrupt Million Dollar Mayor. That would be Hugh Addonizio.
He is not known as Newark’s Son of Florida. Newark’s Son of Florida would be Leo Carlin.
If anything, Chris Christie may be known by New Jersey residents as their very own Son-Of-a-Beach.
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