Alieta Eck and Steve Lonegan are both running for the United States Senate. Furthermore, they are running in New Jersey. Anyone living in New Jersey knows such a race can get ugly fast. This race got as ugly as any race ever got. And the incredible thing about it is: they’re both Republicans.
The Alieta Eck/Steve Lonegan battle
Alieta Eck and Steve Lonegan are, of course, the two Republican candidates in the special Senate primary. Governor Chris Christie called a special election for October 16, 2013, after Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) died on June 3. Steve Lonegan announced on Wednesday he would seek the Republican nomination. Then on Thursday (June 6), Christie reminded everyone to get their petitions in by June 10 – because that’s the law in New Jersey. To everyone’s surprise, Alieta Eck started gathering signatures on Friday. By Monday her campaign turned in 2,285 signatures, well more than the thousand she needed to qualify.
And then, on Friday afternoon, the Lonegan campaign challenged Alieta Eck’s petitions. They said she (and a few others) had falsely claimed to have witnessed signatures she did not witness. They then said many signatories were registered Democrats or non-voters.
Steve Lonegan addresses protestors at the Philadelphia Tea Party Protest on April 18, 2009. Photo: User “Surfsupusa”/Wikipedia English, released to public domain
Furthermore, Rick Shaftan, the contact man for the Lonegan campaign, insinuated that Prof. Murray Sabrin, who ran for the Senate in 2000 and 2008, had all but encouraged Eck to “fudge” on her petitions. Sabrin vehemently denied the charge and demanded a written and videographed apology – neither of which is forthcoming, as far as anyone knows. Alieta Eck also denies that charge. Beyond that, she refuses comment on Steve Lonegan. Alieta Eck would rather talk about more pleasant things – like what she plans to do in the Senate.
News flash: maybe now she can do just that. She spent all day yesterday, until at least 7 p.m., at a hearing before an administrative law judge. Now the judge has decided: she stays on the ballot.
A disappointed activist
Rarely does a Republican primary campaign descend into the sordid mess the Republican special Senate primary in New Jersey became. Activists like Nick Purpura of Team New Jersey said they never saw anything like it.
Steve Lonegan, and whoever suggested challenging Alieta Eck, do nothing but hurt the conservative cause – and hurt their own country, by helping Democrats hold on to that Senate seat.
Purpura also offered this quote from Proverbs 13:16. Which, in the Good News Bible, reads:
Sensible people always think before they act, but stupid people advertise their ignorance.
A common paraphrase of that reads:
Better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you a fool, than open your mouth and remove all doubt.
What disappointed Purpura more than anything else is that either candidate, before recent events, would seem to him a worthy champion in the Senate.
Steve Lonegan is a conservative. And Alieta Eck is – well, I don’t want to harp on her being Christian, but – an ethical and moralistic person. She would never, ever do anything unethical.
In fact, Purpura put out a piece on Friday morning, urging both candidates to run clean campaigns, act like “family,” and support whichever candidate wins the August 13 primary. Your editor, as Essex County Conservative Examiner, called Shaftan that morning to congratulate the Lonegan campaign and get a reaction to Nick Purpura’s piece. Instead, Shaftan first broached all his ugly charges.
“Steve Lonegan should fire his campaign manager, and whoever is giving him that advice!” says Purpura.
The Democrats couldn’t ask for a better opening, than to see us [conservatives] divided. That’s right out of the Saul Alinsky/Barack Obama playbook: divide and conquer! Everyone should also read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. You’ll find the same thing there.
In fact, Nick Purpura suspected something else as early as Saturday, though he admits he can’t prove it. He wondered whether the Democratic Party has insinuated some person or persons into the Steve Lonegan campaign, to sabotage it from within. He always felt, since the 2009 governor’s primary, that someone sabotaged Lonegan from the inside – by encouraging him to say and do unwise things.
Dwight Kehoe said on Friday afternoon that Steve Lonegan ruined himself by trying to challenge Alieta Eck’s petitions. He would have done better, said Kehoe at the time, to slug it out with Alieta Eck at the ballot box. And on Saturday, Kehoe told Steve Lonegan openly: just drop it.
Ironically, Steve Lonegan’s lawyer, F. Michael Daily, accused the Cory Booker campaign, before the ALJ, of propping up Alieta Eck just to hurt Lonegan. Daily made that plain during the hearing. He asked someone, who circulated one petition, whether she circulated it to Democrats at the behest of the Booker campaign. The theory: Steve Lonegan would run much stronger against Booker after an uncontested primary.
Thaddeus Maciag, counsel for Alieta Eck for Senate, did not return the favor. Instead he accused Daily of a “fishing expedition” and moved to dismiss the challenge. Daily, he said, could allege nothing but a few technical mistakes that people made while acting in good faith. Many earlier cases suggest that kind of technical mistake should never be enough to disqualify a candidate.
Can the ugliness fade?
Alieta Eck, candidate in the special Senate primary, waits for a hearing on a challenge of her place on the ballot. Photo: Essex County Conservative Examiner
Administrative Law Judge Edward J. Delanoy Jr. seems to agree. Or so his initial decision would suggest. Alieta Eck called the Essex County Conservative Examiner shortly after 5 p.m. to say, “We won – on all counts.”
Nick Purpura, when he heard about it, extended his congratulations to Dr. Eck. He then declared to CNAV that Team New Jersey will not endorse either candidate until after the primary.
RoseAnn Salanitri, of the New Jersey Tea Party Caucus, was glad to hear of Alieta Eck’s administrative victory. “Well, now it’s a horse race!” she said. Then she said more soberly:
All the conservatives in New Jersey were hoping for a campaign of integrity, and a campaign based on issues and not personalities…Those dreams seemed to be fleeting.
But perhaps now that dream can be real again. Alieta Eck and her volunteers seem willing, and even eager, to start running that kind of campaign.
On Wednesday (19 June 2013) Secretary of State Kim Guadagno delivered her final decision at 5:00 p.m. In that decision, Guadagno adopted all the ALJ’s findings and ordered all County Boards of Elections to include the name of Alieta Eck on Republican Senate primary ballots.
Rumor has it that the Lonegan campaign will appeal yet again. But that will not stop or distract Alieta Eck from campaigning, except for having to appear before a three-judge panel of the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court, if it comes to that.