Editor’s note: This originally appeared in the New York Post.
The New York Times and former congressman Bob Franks describe Jersey City mayor Bret Schundler as too conservative to win the Garden State’s governorship. In fact, Schundler repeatedly has won elections — and, indeed, outperformed Franks — by advancing his conservative beliefs.
While Franks is the reliable pet of clubhouse insiders, Schundler is a successful conservative executive with a reformist track record. He is promoting further innovations in school choice, tax reduction, and the removal of toll plazas on New Jersey’s highways. These proposals already have helped him leapfrog Franks in opinion surveys prior to today’s primary. But Schundler offers more than just superior ideas. His popularity in Jersey City could be the secret weapon he uses to defeat Woodbridge’s Democratic mayor Jim McGreevey next fall.
Compare how Schundler and Franks fared the last time each faced Jersey City’s electorate. Schundler, running for reelection as mayor on June 24, 1997, won 25,115 votes to beat Democrat Jerremiah Healy’s 17,993 ballots.
While Franks lost 47 percent to 50 percent against Jon Corzine in last November 7′s statewide U.S. Senate race, in Jersey City, Franks garnered just 11,019 (18.7 percent) votes to Democrat Jon Corzine’s 43,615 (74.1 percent). Add Schundler’s 7,182-vote victory surplus to Frank’s defeat deficit of 32,596, and a total of 39,778 ballots could swing the GOP’s way in Jersey City next November 6.
Schundler could hobble McGreevey’s candidacy by leaving him little room to maneuver. Hudson County, home of Jersey City, is a Democratic stronghold. A solid Schundler showing there would leave McGreevey few places in which to compensate for those otherwise reliable Democratic votes. All things being equal, a Schundler romp in Hudson County could warm the beer and chill the hot dogs at McGreevey headquarters on election night.
“We’re taking Jim McGreevey’s base from him, right from the get-go.” campaign spokesman Bill Guhl said by phone as Schundler’s bus rolled to a rally in Parsippany Sunday evening. “Once you get out into the rural and suburban counties, we’ll win those anyway, and McGreevey will be without his base.”
Schundler calls himself an “empowerment Republican” who appeals for and wins black, Democratic and independent votes. In 1997, he beat Healy — like McGreevey, a Democrat of Irish ancestry — 58.3 percent to 41.7 percent in a locale that is 65 percent minority and only 6 percent GOP. As the Wall Street Journal then reported, Schundler won 64 percent of Hispanic Ward E and 45 percent of black Ward F (up from 39 percent when Schundler first won a full term in 1993). He also scored 52 percent in Marion Gardens, a housing project that ABC’s Nightline once showcased as the epitome of urban squalor.
Schundler thrives where most Republicans are scared to go, not by peddling socialism-lite but by marketing 80-proof conservatism. He established business improvement districts. He gave city employees medical savings accounts which increased their health options while cutting public expenditures. Schundler improved water quality and has saved taxpayers $35 million since 1996 by privatizing the water works. He has pushed vouchers and charter schools and helped raise over $1 million to provide scholarships to send 223 Jersey City kids to functional campuses.
While Franks calls Schundler an “extremist,” his free-market views have propelled him to three mayoral triumphs. The suburban Franks, meanwhile, gathered dust on urban store shelves last fall. Corzine trounced him in Democrat and minority-rich cities across New Jersey. According to exit polls, Franks won just 24 percent of the votes in Elizabeth, 10.45 percent in Camden and a mere 9.7 percent in Newark.
Schundler likely will capitalize on the affection he has generated among Jersey City’s black and Hispanic Democrats to reach out and secure similar votes in other, largely minority communities.
New Jersey Republicans can place on the path to Trenton a man worthy of their nomination. Mayor Schundler has proven he can sell a Reaganite platform across party and even racial lines. Conveniently enough for GOP voters, embracing Bret Schundler is both the principled and pragmatic thing to do.