The 31st District Democratic Primary started early with a man standing above a crowd apparently with little regard for the redistricting process that has so many others uptight and antsy. But then there’s an adjective observers use when they describe challenger Bruce Alston: aggressive.
“Aggressive but respectful,” clarified the challenger to state Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City).
“We’re Facebook friends,” Alston said, referring to the senator. “I told her just the other day, if there is ever anything I say that’s disrespectful, reach out; pick up the phone and call me.”
A 39-year-old Ward F nightclub owner, born and raised in Jersey City, Alston is not an organization player and knows the hazards of trying to pull together a slate to go up against the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) that will presumably back Cunningham. But there’s another operative adjective in this race when it comes to the once vaunted HCDO, and that’s “weak.” It doesn’t have the juice it once did.
“I’m going to run a line,” Alston promised. “I’m getting people now to fill Assembly seats. I’ll have a candidate for county executive and county register. I’ll have a freeholder candidate.”
Plug his name into the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) to do a search on dollars, however, and it comes up empty.
“I haven’t filed yet,” he admitted. “But I have commitments of $60,000. That’s without throwing a fundraiser. If I can raise $150,000, I have a great shot to pull it off. The sentiment is it’s time for youth.”
Alston said Cunningham is already trying to portray him as a rabble rouser, but Alston counters that by saying it’s the senator who’s saddled up with a Republican governor, not exactly a productive alliance for the district – at least to date, in Alston’s view.
A member of Christie’s transition team in 2009, Cunningham last year backed the governor’s controversial budget.
“When you look at things in that budget, they directly affected Bayonne and Jersey City,” said the challenger. “How could she vote on that budget? The police department lost $20 million in state aid. She knows her district has one of the highest crime rates in New Jersey. Look, what I tell people is this: politics is built on relationships and power is built on alliances.”
Cunningham doesn’t power anything through for Jersey City and Bayonne as a consequence of her alliance with the governor, in Alston’s opinion.
“Unlike Cory Booker, for example,” said the challenger, “who extended an olive branch to the governor and who’s bringing in all this private money into Newark. Sandra Cunningham had a stronger relationship with the governor than Cory Booker did, and yet she helped pass a budget that hurt the district. That’s what she did.”
Talk to Cunningham and she doesn’t paint Alston as a guy on the political warpath, at least not today. She simply said he’s despearate for publicity and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
“The governor’s office has worked with us,” Cunningham told PolitickerNJ.com. “The only thing I am going to say is I voted for the budget for the residents of the State of New Jersey. We put a lot more things in the budget for our residents. We’ve got new schools coming; I stand on my record.”
Cunningham said her accomplishments on behalf of the 31st District include prisonor re-entry work and changing expungement laws, upgrading the state’s weatheriztion program and schools construction.
“I’m proud that we’ve been able to get the governor to look at our schools,” she said. “We’ve been doing the work. It’s up to the citizens, but I am proud of the way I’ve served them.”
But Alston says he’s convinced Cunningham is more a political creature hatched out of her late husband’s friendships and alliances than an independent voice for the district. Cunningham, of course, is the widow of former Jersey City Mayor Glen Cunningham, who as a U.S. Marshal had forged a friendship with former lawman Christie.
“If she were Sandra Bolden would she be our state senator?” Alston wondered. “The name carries some legacy to me. I’ve gone to several events and she always talks about this Cunningham legacy. But you cannot legislate on Glenn Cunningham’s legacy. People are starting to connect with this.”
Alston aims to prove that the senator is living disconnected from the roots of the district’s wards in a gated community while he pounds pavement and tries aggressively – but respectfully – to turn this into a race.
Certainly there is the prospect that a third person could jump into the contest and skew the strategies of both players.
“I’m not into this for a political job, I don’t want a political job,” insisted Alston, swatting aside the suggestion that the entrance, for example, of a white candidate, could drive him into his own political alliance with Cunningham.
“I want to be state senator,” Alston said. “I wouldn’t drop out.”