InsiderNJ is a nonpartisan website dedicated to political news in the state of New Jersey. It brings you bold and insightful must-read real-time news for New Jersey's political and government insiders.
President Donald J. Trump’s opponents on the left aren’t the only ones angry over his choice of words.
State Senator Mike Doherty (R-23), Trump’s 2016 N.J. state director, today objected to Trump taking the name of the Lord in vain at a North Carolina rally.
“This is unacceptable language and is highly offensive to many of his most ardent supporters,” Doherty told InsiderNJ.
“He may be assuming that his supporters will blindly follow him anywhere and down any path that he takes, but that is not the case,” added the Warren-based New Jersey senator, the state’s leading movement conservative. “I hope this was a one-time mistake that will not be repeated.”
PARAMUS – Democrats in Washington probably don’t need an internal battle over Israel, but it’s possible they may get one.
The House Tuesday night is scheduled to vote on a resolution opposing a global boycott of Israel. Known as the BDS movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions, its goal is to pressure Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians. The resolution is opposed by some, including Rep. Ilhan Omar, the Minnesota Democrat who most recently was advised by the president to leave the country. She has introduced a resolution of her own aimed at protecting the rights of Americans to take part in boycotts.
Omar’s position may seem a legitimate political stance to some, but many supporters of Israel – and the anti-BDS resolution – consider the boycott movement driven by reflexive anti-Semitism more than anything else.
A recent increase throughout the country, New Jersey included, of anti-Semitic acts exacerbates that sentiment.
And on Tuesday morning, it brought Rep. Josh Gottheimer and others to the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey to rally in support of the resolution opposing the boycott.
The Democratic congressman from the Fifth District was joined by Elan Carr, the U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating anti-Semitism, and others.
In a Facebook post accompanying the press conference, Gottheimer said, “We are standing together in the fight against anti-Semitism and opposing the BDS movement. ”
Speaking at the press conference, Gottheimer decried increasing anti-Semitism all over the world, noting the rise of far right political parties in Europe. Closer to home, other speakers spoke of swastikas being painted on local school property.
The congressman said society should never accept hate or bigotry of any kind.
On a more global level, he also worried that the BDS movement could further hurt the peace process in the Middle East, given the measure’s tilt to the Palestinian side.
The anti-BDS resolution is certainly expected to pass, given the fact it has drawn support from a majority of Democrats and almost all Republicans in the House.
But things still could be interesting. Georgia Rep. John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement. is a co-sponsor of Omar’s resolution affirming the right to take part in boycotts. That’s an understandable position for a veteran of the American civil rights movement.
But Lewis is also a co-sponsor of the measure opposing BDS.
That’s a pretty clever way to have things both ways. A wise old owl, that Lewis.
The interim director of the state Schools Development Authority (SDA) today notified around 30 SDA employees that they no longer work at the embattled state authority.
Those dismissed in the aftermath of the era of former director Lizette Delgado, included many whom she hired, including the director of personnel, projects manager, deputy chief of staff and press secretary.
Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-20) issued the following statement on President Donald J. Trump’s ongoing criticism of four Democratic Congresswomen: Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York:
“I am beyond disappointed in what is occurring nationally right now. A sitting President has singled out four Congresswomen because of their policies, their heritage and their age. Each of them was elected by their constituents, breaking barriers in these exact same areas.
“What’s going on in Washington affects us all. Yes, each of us, as Americans, has the right of free speech. It does not matter the color of your skin or gender, all Americans enjoy these same privileges. However, The President’s criticism seems to know no boundaries and is providing a false sense of privilege to many who feel that it’s okay to say anything or attack a person with whom they disagree.
“America is a country of immigrants. Many have come here looking for a better life for his or her family. The current political discourse over Congresswomen Omar, Tlaib, Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez is divisive, disruptive and demeaning to this nation’s democratic principles.
“Every day in municipalities, county government and state houses across the country open, frank discussions occur about policies. I’ve always believed forging good policy requires open dialog from different perspectives. This is not the cooperation we are seeing in Washington today.”
Below is the Insider NJ Morning Intelligence Briefing for 7/23/2019:
SPONSOR MESSAGE (ETS):
ETS — a nonprofit, New Jersey-based organization committed to the students of New Jersey. With our experience and expertise, we develop student assessments that provide insight into where students are and where they need to be, and support educators in creating pathways to get there. Each year, ETS administers 50 million tests in 180+ countries across the globe. Our learning tools and assessments are research based, valid and fair — one of the many ways we advance quality and equity in education for all learners. In addition, ETS has a long tradition of community service and philanthropy in support of New Jersey’s students and educators.
Governors Murphy and Cuomo jointly signed bi-state legislation to create the Gateway Development Commission, saying that ‘building the new Hudson Tunnel Project is the single most important infrastructure project in our nation, but the Trump administration has abdicated its responsibility by failing to pay their fair share to replace this federally-owned asset’. State leaders applauded the commission’s creation, while Senator Weinberg, one of the bill’s sponsors, said funding should come from bonding, not NJ Transit train tolls and made it ‘absolutely clear today that it is the bipartisan intent of the New Jersey legislative leadership that under no circumstance would we accept a scenario where New Jersey Transit’s operating budget – which continues to be underfunded – would be saddled with any portion of the construction cost of Gateway’. Weinberg added that a ‘commitment to that principle will be a prerequisite’ for any nomination to the GDC.
Senator Ruiz and Newark Councilman Ramos said they ‘stand in solidarity‘ with Puerto Rican protesters in calling for the resignation of Governor Rossello, saying it would be ‘an important step in the process of restoring confidence between the government of Puerto Rico and its residents’; Rossello has said he won’t seek re-election next year but plans to remain in office following a corruption probe and sexist and homophobic comments made in a leaked online chat conversation.
Rep. Gottheimer held his 44th ‘Cup of Joe with Josh’ event.
Governor Murphy directed the lowering of flags today in honor of the late Justice John Paul Stevens.
Senator Sarlo released a statement on the state’s record-low unemployment rate, touting the FY2020 budget’s $1.3B surplus and saying ‘the responsible thing was to prepare for the inevitable’ next economic downturn.
Assemblywoman Sumter blasted President Trump’s comments regarding Reps. Omar, Tlaib, Pressley, and Ocasio-Cortez, saying its ‘yet another tactless, hateful example of our country being steered in the wrong direction, going backward not forward’.
The NJEDA announced a new pilot program aimed at supporting small business growth.
The NJ Highlands Council voted to implement enhanced signage and digital mapping of the state’s portion of the Highlands Trail.
It’s mid-July, and Lake Hopatcong has been desecrated by huge splotches of green slime that you keep at a safe distance, one measured by your tolerance for a horrid stench. The largest lake in New Jersey is usually filled with swimmers, boats, jet skis, and fishing lines.
Former Spotswood mayor Nicholas Poliseno will be laid to rest on Friday, July 26. Poliseno passed away on Thursday, July 18 at his home from illnesses he contracted from his work as a first responder on September 11 according to his obituary. He was 41 years old.
Gov. Phil Murphy announced Friday that Marcela Ospina Maziarz has been named interim acting commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health, taking the helm from Dr. Shereef Elnahal, who left the administration to serve as CEO of University Hospital in Newark. Murphy announced last month his intention to nominate former University Hospital interim CEO Judith Persichilli as the commissioner of health. She will begin her role as acting commissioner next Monday.
An analysis shows NJ Transit and Amtrak rail riders lost almost 78 days of their lives fuming on stuck trains due to delays caused by “major infrastructure failures” in the century-old, Sandy-damaged Hudson train tunnel and the Portal Bridge. But that comes as no surprise to commuters, or to Gateway Development Corporation trustees, who ordered the survey.
Former Eastside High School principal Zatiti Moody sought $750,000 and removal of an assistant superintendent to settle his lawsuit against the Paterson school district, according to public documents reviewed by the Paterson Times.
The mantras in capital city education circles might as well be “Hope springs eternal” and “Grant us this wish.” But it’s not only the Trenton Education Association, the Trenton Paraprofessional Association and other local bargaining units pushing for the Trenton High School Principal Hope Grant to succeed Fred McDowell as interim superintendent.
Paul Juliano, the new Bergen County Democratic chairman, said he hopes the party can expand on its recent victories by toppling some Republican members of the Assembly in November. Juliano, 48, of Woodcliff Lake, was elected to lead the party at a Paramus labor union hall on Wednesday night. He had no opposition.
Borough Mayor Mary Jane Canose last week met with the Downtown Redevelopment Committee to discuss the three proposals they received this month from developers bidding to undertake the project of renovating and updating the Quimby Lane area in the center of town.
Yee-haw! Sprawling green space off Hughes Drive could be transformed into a passive recreation zone featuring a kayak launch, elevated boardwalks and even potentially a swimming area. The Mercer County Park Commission wants to develop this 280-acre parcel into a more popular outdoor space with ecological enhancements, but hundreds of area residents have voiced opposition in an online petition fearing the project would cause more harm than good.
Former Belleville Mayor Raymond Kimble has passed away, according a Bergen Record report. Kimble, who was 80, served as police chief in Belleville and mayor, first elected in 2006, until his defeat by Michael Melham in 2018.
Melham wrote on Facebook this morning that ‘Mayor Kimble served our Township with distinction for many years in various capacities. From Police Officer he rose through our ranks to become Police Chief. After retirement from the Department, he went on to serve as Public Safety Director and Township Manager. He would then serve three terms as Mayor. As a young Councilman I worked closely with Mayor Kimble when he was Public Safety Director and Township Manager. I have asked Township Manager Iacono to place all Municipal Flags at half staff and have mourning bunting draped across Town Hall. I ask that you respect the privacy of the Kimble family at this time. We extend our deepest condolences to the Kimble family. The Township will provide additional details as they become available.’
BEDMINSTER – Those driving along Route 206 late Friday afternoon could not have missed the word, “Racist,” spelled out in big block letters on the side of the road.
This was outside the local library, but more tellingly, it was just down the road from Trump National Golf Course, site that evening of a presidential fundraiser.
Those of a certain age talk about how the 1960’s were such a chaotic and divisive decade. That was when we saw sharp, emotional divides over Vietnam, rock and roll, drug use and even the length of hair. The
50th anniversary of the moon landing and the soon-to-be 50th anniversary of Woodstock help bring that era into contemporary focus.
But with all respect to the 1960’s, the divide in the nation today seems more pronounced and perhaps even more destructive than it was then. This divide was crystallized a week or so ago by the
president’s suggestion that four Democratic members of Congress – all women and minorities – return to where they came.
That is what prompted protesters to take to the “streets” last week in overbearingly unfriendly weather.
Of course, three of the four women criticized by the president were born in the United States, but logic never deters those yearning to make someone’s race or ethnicity an issue.
Words to the effect of “go back to where you came from,” are not new.
They’ve been part of American society for a very long time. A big difference these days is that the guy uttering them is not a drunk in a bar, but the president. Times change.
But to grasp today’s political divide, you have to recognize how the nation seems split over such ignorance.
Many Trump defenders say the phrase is not racist.
It is true that the words, “go back to where you came from,” in themselves contain no racial or ethnic slurs, but is that really the point? Not in the least.
The point is the president’s suggestion that minority representatives with the temerity to disagree with him do not belong in the United States. That is a bigoted view even without racial epithets. Clearly.
He would have been unlikely to say the same about white political opponents whose ancestors came here five generations ago.
But there’s something more here, and it does hearken back some 50 years.
A popular saying in those days was, “America, Love it or Leave it.”
This was a mindless chant. But the suggestion was easy to follow – those who do not love America should simply leave it.
That was the president’s main point. It was aimed, not just at four members of the House, but at the country at large.
And many in the country at large who like Donald Trump have contended over the last week or so that the four congresswoman in question do not support the United States or its aims.
On a very basic level, and leaving aside the accuracy of that observation, so what?
We live in a democracy, so no one is obligated to support, or even like, the United State. We have freedom of speech and thought. No rational person should want to live in a nation where patriotism is
But beyond that, let’s draw the needed distinction between support of country and support of the president. They are two very different things.
The country is our constitution and democratic ideals, The president is the person running the government at the moment.
One can hate Donald Trump and love the United States.
Or in more benign terms, dislike Donald Trump and like the United States.
Unfortunately, there are some who don’t seem able to respect the distinction between the president and the country. One of them is the president himself.
And with the president likely to continue offering his incendiary racial views, this divide is going to continue. And perhaps even escalate as the 2020 election gets closer every day.
A middle ground – a place for reasonable discourse – is not in sight.
And sure, extremists on both sides share the blame for that.
And there’s no moon landing this summer to bring the nation together.
Since Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), known as “AOC” arrived on the contemporary American political scene with her Democratic primary election victory in 2018, nobody has more forcefully and passionately than I denounced the vile anti-Semitism and the anti-Israel propaganda she propounds. The same holds true for her cohorts who desire the destruction of the State of Israel, Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan).
I have denounced all three of these women vehemently in both my columns and social media. In the case of AOC, I continue to advocate a House of Representatives vote of censure of her for her defamatory allegation of racism against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
These three women, together with Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts are known as “the Squad.” Yet it must be emphasized that Ayanna Pressley, while a Progressive Democratic woman with whom I disagree on many domestic issues, has not at all been supportive of the hate-Israel politics of AOC, Omar, and Tlaib.
In fact, Congresswoman Pressley is a profoundly good and decent person who enjoys an excellent relationship with the Boston Jewish community and opposes the pro-Arab Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS), the goal of which is to destroy the economy of the State of Israel. She should, however, publicly disassociate herself from “the Squad”, whose other members, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Tlaib support BDS and peddle filthy lies against the State of Israel.
Yet the damage caused by the destructive anti-Israel efforts of AOC, Omar, and Tlaib is now being magnified by President Donald Trump. He is using the anti-Israel records of AOC, Omar, and Tlaib as a rationale for his racist attacks against these three women of color, featuring his racist trope of “go back to where you came from.”
The Trump attacks on Omar have been particularly reprehensible. He has gone so far as to repeat defamatory rumors that she married her brother. The xenophobic nature of his attacks was typified by his remarks last Friday, “She’s lucky to be where she is, let me tell you,”
At the rally in Greenville, North Carolina last Wednesday night, Trump added Omar’s anti-Israel record to his xenophobic “go back to where you came from” tweets. All these racist and xenophobic attacks on Omar, for which Trump uses her anti-Israel record as a rationale, resulted in the “send her back” white nationalist reaction of the crowd. This outpouring of hatred was reminiscent of Nuremberg. And Trump said and did nothing while the crowd was yelling its ugly xenophobic invective of “send her back.” In fact, he stood on the podium and revelled in the atmosphere of hate.
The American Jewish community, by and large, is appalled by Trump’s attempt to use its sacred support of Israel as a basis for his race war. Race hatred, as I wrote in two InsiderNJ columns last week, is the only way that Trump can be reelected. (https://www.insidernj.com/will-new-jersey-republicans-acquiesce-trump-racism/) (https://www.insidernj.com/trump-2020-reelection-campaign-will-race/) The attacks singling out three Congressional women of color is merely the first episode in Trump’s campaign race war.
Over the past century, the Anti-Defamation League has been the undisputed organizational leader in the fight against antisemitism, not only in America but throughout the world. Its CEO and national director, Jonathan Greenblatt spoke most eloquently for the entire American Jewish community when he condemned Trump’s attempt to use Israel as a component of his race war:
“As Jews, we’re all too familiar with this kind of divisive prejudice. While the ADL has publicly disagreed with these congresswomen on some issues, the president is echoing the racist talking points of white nationalists and cynically using the Jewish people and the state of Israel as a shield to double down on his remarks.”
I must note that I am particularly sensitive to Trump’s “go back to where you came from” rhetoric. As a Jew, I was subjected to it as a child of traditional Jewish parents. They kept me out of public school on Jewish holidays, and I would hear from some of my non-Jewish classmates, “why don’t you come back to where you came from?”
Yet what is most troubling is the effect the Trump race war could have on Jewish-African-American relations. It is clear that an essential goal of the Trump race war is to polarize people of color and Jews against each other, in the hope that Jewish voters switch their 2016 support of Hillary to 2020 support of Trump. This cynical Trumpian attempt comes at a time when Jewish-African American relations, after decades of tension appear to be improving markedly.
To get a perspective on this, one should focus on the Borough of Brooklyn. Ironically, Brooklyn was the site of the beginning of Donald Trump’s career as a racist, when the United States Justice Department found in the early 1970s that Trump had attempted to deny African-Americans the opportunity to rent residential apartments from him.
For the Jewish and African-American communities, relations between them basically went through three stages. The first stage began in the early twentieth century and lasted until the end of 1957. That era was characterized by the presence of the late, lamented Brooklyn Dodgers as a unifying factor and by the absolutely passionate and overwhelming support the Jewish community of Brooklyn gave Jackie Robinson in his struggle to integrate Major League Baseball.
This first era of Jewish and African-American brotherhood and sisterhood ended when the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles after the 1957 season. The Dodger owner, Walter O’Malley actually did not want to leave Brooklyn but instead wanted to build at his own expense a domed stadium for the Dodgers at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. Robert Moses, however, who had virtual total control over development projects in New York, blocked O’Malley’s plan, because he had a friendly developer slated to develop public housing at the site. A developer by the name of Fred Trump, who ultimately failed to build anything at that location.
The second stage of Jewish/African-American relations began after the Dodgers left and only came to an end at the beginning of this decade. It was characterized by serious conflict between the two communities, including the Ocean Hill-Brownsville conflict over local control of schools, resulting in a citywide school strike, and the Crown Heights riots of 1991.
The negative state of Jewish/African-American relations in Brooklyn during this era was further inflamed by the antisemitism and virulently anti-Israel advocacy of Jesse Jackson and the repugnant racism of the late Meir Kahane and his Jewish Defense League. Now, however, there has emerged a new African-American leader in Brooklyn who has given more hope than ever to the revival of the once magnificent Jewish/African-American alliance.
He is Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. A highly successful corporate attorney, he was elected to his seat in the House of Representatives in 2012. He has climbed quickly through the Democratic ranks in the House, currently serving as the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.
Jeffries has a solid center-left record and has been a strong supporter of Israel. His ascension to power signifies a new era of Jewish-Black cooperation. In my view, the 49-year-old Hakeem Jeffries some day could be an outstanding presidential candidate.
This is a very difficult time for the American Jewish community. The trio of Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Tlaib are outright enemies of both the American Jewish community and the State of Israel, and the Trumpian race war and his embrace of white nationalism portends nightmare for American Jewry. In such an atmosphere of despair, for American Jewry, Hakeem Jeffries is a beacon of hope.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.
Below is the Insider NJ Morning Intelligence Briefing for 7/22/2019:
SPONSOR MESSAGE (NJEA):
New Jersey’s public schools consistently rank among the top in the nation, yet the educators who help our students achieve their dreams have watched their pay checks go down for the past eight years. The unintended consequences of P.L. 2011, Ch. 78 have devastated the morale and the pocketbooks of public school employees for too long. It’s time for Trenton to #FixTheUnfairness and return respect to our public school employees. Learn more.
Protesters assembled outside of Trump National Gold Course in Bedminster on Friday, where the President was holding a re-election fundraiser.
In LD21, GOP Assemblyman Bucco pushed back against Democratic challengers Bhimani and Draeger’s call for full school funding, calling it a ‘phony call’ and saying they ‘love their platitudes and vanilla talking points, but when push comes to shove, voters need to know whether or not they support Murphy and the disastrous Democratic school funding formula’.
The NJLGBT Democratic Caucus held a drag queen bingo event, selling 180 tickets and raising $4,500.
The Andrew Goodman Foundation received a $350k grant to support youth civic engagement work.
Governor Murphy took action on over two dozen pieces of legislation on Friday.
Governor Murphy named Marcela Opsina Maziarz as the Acting Commissioner of the NJDHS; Murphy has nominated Judith Persichilli for the permanent post.
Senate President Sweeney and Senator Singer released a statement on their bill to prohibit anti-Semitism in public schools, clarifying its intent and saying that ‘we welcome a constructive dialogue about preserving the rights of free expression as we oppose acts and expressions of hatred and bias’.
Members of the Legislative Black and Latino Caucuses will hold a press conference tomorrow regarding President Trump’s recent comments about Reps. Omar, Pressley, Ocasio-Cortez, and Ilhan.
The NJBIA pointed to Pew Research data that finds NJ is the 49th in the nation for public employee pension fund fiscal health, and called for reducing the overall cost of the system.
Last week, our president used his Twitter account to tell four Democratic congresswomen of color to accept the way things are or leave the country. He equated advocating change with hating America, a far cry from the roots of the Republican Party that once fought to end slavery and segregation.
An assessment of U.S. race relations and anti-Semitism blames President Donald Trump for deterioration. Trump certainly earned notoriety as racial rabble-rouser although his personal hate-speak for Mexicans, undocumented residents and African Americans, combined with misogynistic mind games hardly makes the president responsible for millions who support his prejudice pitch.
We all know politicians are morons, but when you actually *know* it – meaning, when it’s not just an opinion, but a rock-solid fact – then it’s time to bang your head into the wall a few times and wonder if a benign dictatorship might not be a better way to go.
As her campaign bus trundled along Interstate 80 toward the Michigan-Ohio border, Kirsten Gillibrand was offering wedding planning advice to one of her presidential campaign staffers who recently got engaged.
School boards from Sussex County to Cape May could soon begin rewriting contracts to accommodate their superintendents’ demands for more money following Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s signing of a bill Friday repealing the superintendent salary caps that have been in place the last eight years.
An executive order suspending transitional aid to the financially distressed resort is a credit negative, according to one ratings agency. Moody’s Investors Service said Gov. Phil Murphy’s July 3 executive order that placed nearly $235 million in reserve, including Atlantic City’s $3.3 million in transitional aid for the current budget year, created uncertainty for nine impacted municipalities in New Jersey.
A former Community Charter School of Paterson administrator has filed a lawsuit alleging his ex-employer is in breach of his employment contract. Richard J. Kilpatrick, former chief operating officer and assistant business administrator, alleges the school owes him compensation for 24 accrued unused vacation, sick, and personal time, according to the lawsuit.
The Congressional Black Caucus recently created a task force on Black Youth Suicide and Mental Health, and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman is the chair. She spoke with Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron about the work of the emergency task force and why it’s needed.
When I read the news of Salena Lesniak’s death at age 43, I could scarcely comprehend the words before my eyes.
“Wow,” I said to myself, “that headline makes is seem like she’s dead which makes no sense and can’t possibly be true.”
Of course, it was true.
Iconic LGBT ally
Salena cemented herself into the annals of Garden State political history when she hosted the first gay wedding in New Jersey history back in 2015. In addition to decades of pro-LGBT advocacy, Salena was a zealous champion of animal rights and the longtime wife and partner to Senator Raymond Lesniak.
If I had to describe Salena with a single word, I’d choose fun. She was a hoot. And our time together always included cute clothes, good wholesome gossip, and lots of champagne.
Usually the good stuff.
Preferably Veuve Cliquot.
“I hope we don’t look too bougie,” I quipped to the waiter, “But yes, we’ll have another bottle.”
“Were not bougie, we’re childless,” Salena clarified. “We don’t have kids so we can afford it.”
And if Salena was the craziest dog mom in Garden State history that’s ok with me. I’m too busy planning my cat’s bar mitzvah to judge.
Those were the kind of jokes we shared and I’ll miss that.
And when I think about Salena’s beloved dogs Penny and Sammy, I’m nauseous. Those dogs were robbed. We were all robbed.
Mostly, Salena was robbed.
A Rose By Any Other Name
To most people, a Sloppy Joe means a ground beef/tomato sauce concoction served on a hamburger bun.
Not so in Union County and elsewhere in northeastern New Jersey.
At Bella Gina’s in Linden in Union County, their Sloppy Joe comes with “turkey, ham & Swiss cheese on 3 layers of (hearty) rye bread smothered in coleslaw & Russian dressing.”
In Salena’s hometown of Linden, the Sloppy Joe is something like a wet, sloppy, un-grilled rueben sandwich. And certainly nothing like what most of us grew up with.
I learned about the only-in-Jersey-style Sloppy Joes earlier this year when I stumbled across some listicle ranking New Jersey’s 10 best sandwiches.
I immediately called Salena, noted Union County foodie, to confirm the existence of this alternative Sloppy Joe sandwich.
“You need to come up and try one,” she said and I promised I would.
But I never did.
And now she’s gone.
Embedded in my regret is a reminder to grab your phone and call someone you love. Or someone you’ve drifted from. Or the bestie you haven’t have lunch with in a while.
The drive to Linden from Cherry Hill to say goodbye was brisk, a reminder how easy that Sloppy Joe road trip would’ve been. It was brutally hot for Salena’s final journey and the AC in the funeral home was blessedly up to the task. It was a tender mercy on a day when shock and grief occupied our thoughts.
Senator Lesniak, perched next to his wife’s coffin, held court admirably. The grief-stricken look on his face told the story.
Eventually I gravitated toward the kitchen because that’s what women and gay men do at funerals. Gretchen Hickey, Linden Councilwoman, greeted me at the top of the stairs with a long hug. She and Salena were sisterly and you could tell she was hurting because of the look on her face.
Gretchen has a queer son whose coming out was markedly less bumpy for having an iconic LGBT ally like Salena for a surrogate auntie.
Someone suggested a toast and a bottle of Veuve Cliquot appeared which honestly felt like a perfectly-chilled, bubbly kiss from heaven.
“To Salena” someone cried out. We, the newly-minted stewards of her memory, were too stunned and sad to conjure up the stemwinder Salena’s remarkable life deserved.
Then we drank to a friend who’d be proud we brought the good stuff.
Someone popped open anther bottle and I needed little nosh before having another.
I’m not a religious man but when I saw a huge tray of Jersey-style Sloppy Joes on the counter, I couldn’t help but chuckle because the lord is supposed to work in mysterious ways and there he goes being all obvious about things.
And as I stood there in the kitchen of a North Jersey funeral parlor having a Jersey Sloppy Joe for the very first time I was grateful that my broken heart didn’t interfere with the appetite.