Bret Schundler: Not your typical politician
Steve Adubato, Ph.D.
Bret Schundler is not your typical politician. Schundler is a highly
educated guy who succeeded on Wall Street and decided he wanted
to be the mayor of the decidedly working class ethnically diverse
urban community of Jersey City. This WASPy guy with formal religious
training wound up shocking the political pundits in 1992 and became
the first Republican since 1917 to win the mayoralty in a town that
can count its registered Republicans on two hands.
No, this Bret Schundler is not your typical politician. He is a
smart, articulate and engaging policy wonk who actually believes
in new ideas and radical approaches to old problems, particularly
urban education. Now, Bret Schundler has the audacity to take on
the State Republican organization and challenge acting Governor
and Senate President Don DiFrancesco for his parties nomination
to be the state's Chief Executive. Is this guy nuts, or what?
Currently, "Donny D" has the support of 18 of the 21
Republican County Chairs. DiFrancesco controls the Upper House's
legislative agenda as Senate president as well as countless state
contracts, grants and patronage plums as our governor, acting or
otherwise. The conventional wisdom says that Schundler is supposed
to see the handwriting on the wall and drop out of this race "for
the good of the party" as well as for his own political future.
The argument is that DiFrancesco doesn't need a nasty party primary
draining his resources and damaging his reputation before he has
to face likely Democratic nominee Jim McGreevey.
Apparently, he couldn't care less about conventional wisdom. He
also couldn't care less about Don DiFrancesco or the Republican
Party. As for his political future, Schundler has never been one
to count on anyone else to pave his way. If he had, he wouldn't
be mayor of Jersey City today.
Seems to me that Bret Schundler is in this Republican primary to
stay, and that is really bad news for the Republicans. The reason
conventional wisdom falls flat in making sense of this whole thing
is because it is based on the premise that all politicians are alike.
They can be "bought off" with promises of things down
the road like government appointments and a future candidacy for
The other thing that political insiders don't get about Bret Schundler
is that he actually believes his own rhetoric. He actually believes
that he, and only he, can make a difference. We're talking about
a guy who has been willing to go head-to-head with the powerful
New Jersey Education Association, otherwise known as the teachers'
lobby, and propose school vouchers (using public money to allow
parents to send their children to a non-public school), particularly
for failing urban school systems like Jersey City, Newark, Camden
and Atlantic City.
What kind of political deal can you cut with a guy who actually
believes he has a responsibility to help urban kids have every opportunity
to get a decent education? Right or wrong, Schundler couldn't care
less if all 140,000 members of the teachers' union campaign against
When I asked Schundler recently what it would take for him to drop
out of this governor's race and support Don DiFrancesco he told
me he would be glad to drop out if the acting governor took up his
cause on school vouchers. Since the odds are a million to one against
the cautious DiFrancesco doing that, Schundler makes it clear he
has no intention of getting out. Fact is, I don't think Schundler
cares if he wins this race. He's looking for a statewide forum to
express his views and have an honest dialogue with "Donny D."
The other reason Schundler isn't getting out is that rightfully
he distrusts the political establishment and is highly suspicious
of political commitments for things to be done in the future. Case
in point, Schundler supported Christie Whitman for Governor in 1993.
Whitman promised to lead the effort to create a pilot school voucher
program in Jersey City. The problem was that is soon as Governor
Whitman caught some heat from the teachers' union, she backed down.
She folded. Simply put, she broke her promise to Bret Schundler.
This Harvard grad figured out that if you want to institute a controversial
policy in Trenton, you better do it yourself. The only way school
vouchers will get anywhere in this state is if Bret Schundler becomes
governor. While the odds are currently highly against that happening,
this very atypical politician is going to do all he can to make
waves and create tremendous discomfort for the leadership of the
Republican Party in this state.
Finally, if Bret Schundler does in fact lose this primary and is
no longer the mayor of Jersey City, he can go back to Wall Street
and make money the "old fashioned" way through leverage
buy-outs and venture capital. Like I said, Bret Schundler is not
your typical politician.
Steve Adubato, Ph.D. is a commentator, lecturer and former state
legislator. Dr. Adubato is also an Emmy Award-winning television
anchor and syndicated columnist.
He can be reached by fax (973) 509-1659 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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