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New State Senator Cunningham

Inaugurated in front of hometown crowd

by Ricardo Kaulessar

Glenn Cunningham, Louis Manzo and Anthony Chiappone were already sworn in officially as State Senator and Assemblymen of the 31st District respectively on Tuesday at the State House in Trenton at a ceremony that took place before Governor James McGreevey's State of the State address.

But for the nearly 1,000 in attendance who came out in near freezing temperatures on Wednesday night for the swearing in ceremony for the new State Senator and Assemblymen held at St. Peter College's Yanitelli Center, it was as if the three candidates had won the election all over again.

City employees, political supporters, family members, visiting dignitaries and local well-wishers packed the athletic center to witness a new political chapter in the careers of the three men who were feted on stage.

The mistress of ceremonies was City Councilwoman Viola Richardson opened the evening by introducing the three honorees with newly elected Assemblymen Manzo and Chiappone coming up to the stage escorted by their families. Then newly elected State Senator Cunningham with wife Sandra Bolden Cunningham at his side made their way to the stage.

It is finally herethe day where we will recognize three individuals who have weathered the storm, who have gone through hell and back. And three people who are victorious. Who have won the fight, who have won the race,' said Richardson in her introduction of the three men with reference to last year's particularly nasty campaign amongst two opposing Hudson County Democrat factions for seats in the 31st District.

Throughout the evening, a number of speakers gave their testimonials and prayers to the new officials bound for the State House. Amongst them, State Senators Nia Gill (D-Montclair) and Ray Lesniak (D-Union), and Kearny Mayor Al Santos who has been one of the few mayoral allies in Hudson County that Cunningham and his Hudson County Reform Democrats Organization has had since the split with the Hudson County Democratic Party in 2001.

About a year ago, Hudson County politicians were having what's called leadership meetings and some people were not invited. (Cunningham) told me one thing I've always remembered. It's not that invitation; it's not them calling a meeting that makes you a leader. It's the people that makes you a leader, said Santos.

First Lady Sandra Bolden Cunningham gave a stirring testimonial to her husband before he would take his oath of office, citing his faith in God in helping him to achieve his victory over his Democratic opposition whom she admonished for not knowing who they were running against.

They didn't know that he asked God first. They didn't know that when he was trying to become State Senator, it wasn't about him seeking power; it was about empowering the people of the 31st District. But I have one thing to say --- they know it now, said Mrs. Cunningham.

Then came the swearing-in ceremonies that replicated what took place on Tuesday. Each one was sworn in separately by a State Superior Court Judge as part of the official procedure in assigning them their titles.

Taking the oath of office first was Anthony Chiappone, accompanied by his wife Diane, who will be representing the Bayonne portion of the district. Afterward, Chiappone opened his remarks by pausing for a moment to scan the crowd before thanking them for their support in his successful campaign for Assemblyman. He then thanked State Senator Cunningham for being head of the winning political team that defeated an opposition that included Chiappone's Bayonne rival, former leader of the State Assembly Joseph Doria.

"I will not be an assemblyperson that you just see during election time. I will be someone that you can pick the phone up and call anytime. I will be someone that you can feel free to stop into my office and see me or one of my staff, or call up my wife Diane and say simply Diane, can I get a hold of Tony, I have a problem," said Chiappone striking an earnest tone.

Sworn in next was the other newly elected Assemblyman for the 31st District Louis Manzo, former Hudson County Freeholder and former head of the Jersey City Department of Health, who brought an entourage of nieces and nephews to the stage.

Manzo peppered his thank you speech with quotes from noted figures of the past such as John F. Kennedy, Jr. and Martin Luther King, and incisive comments and statistics about the important political issues that will need to be tackled by the State Assembly in the upcoming Legislative session.

He also announced his sponsorship several upcoming bills including Bill A572 known as the Smart Homestead Rebate Bill, which if approved will authorize the placing of an one-tenth of one percent surcharge on incomes over $155,000 and an one percent surcharge on incomes over $1,000,000 in order to remedy what he saw as an increasingly unfair situation facing the majority of low and middle income New Jersey taxpayers.

"Of New Jersey's 2.7 million tax filers, 2.5 million make less than $155,000 yet pay six cents of every dollar they earned to fund school operations. There are only 200,000 income fliers in New Jersey who make more than $155,000 but they pay only a penny of every dollar they earn toward school taxes. My friends, something is wrong and the Smart Bill is cure for these ills," said Manzo.

Then the highlight of the occasion as Jersey City Mayor Glenn D. Cunningham became State Senator Glenn D. Cunningham by being sworn into office in front of a standing hometown crowd by State Superior Court Judge Joseph Charles, the former 31st District State Senator whose seat will be filled by Cunningham when the State Legislative session starts on January 26th.

Joining State Senator Cunningham and his wife on stage was his younger sister Diane who traveled from Atlanta for the event. Cunningham in his usual breezy, jokey manner thanked God, then his wife whom he acknowledged for helping him to make the decision to become State Senator by referring to her as someone "who refused to be a woman that's just behind her man. She's got to be besides him, in front of him sometimes, kicking him from behind."

Cunningham also thanked his political team, various local and state politicians and the voters in the room for helping him during his State Senate campaign, as he promised to make good on recouping the money that was cut by the State a few years ago.

"We were outspent to five to one. And workers from all over the state were brought into Jersey City to try to stop us but because of you, they couldn't. They had many advantages but there's one that we had that couldn't be beat. And I'm looking at that advantage right now. God bless all of you, you're the advantage," said Cunningham.

The mayor also cited not only the various accomplishments of Jersey City during his term including a decrease in crime through various social programs, the continued progress of the Waterfront as the economic center of the state but also the ills that afflict the city and the state such as unemployment and an unequal distribution of wealth which he will make a priority in Trenton to cure.

After the ceremony, attendees were mostly elated at the prospect of their Mayor being their State Senator representing their interests along with his Assemblyman team.

Sergio Lamboy, Director of the JC Dept. of Health & Human Services, was positive that the Cunningham, Manzo and Chiappone team will all be successful in pursuing legislation on health issues including finding funds for drug addiction program as the 31st District has one of the highest rates of drug addiction in the state.

Hudson County Republican Party Chairman Jose Arango, himself a former state Assemblyman and usually on the opposite side of Cunningham on many issues showered words of praise and respect as he believed that Cunningham and his team will do a better job than previous representatives for the district and will show a different face of Hudson County politics.

"I am here tonight because these people represent a change. (Cunningham) represents the people not the politics."

But others who wanted to remain unnamed were not sure if having the dual jobs of Mayor and State Senator will work out but are willing to have an open mind and are curious to see how the next two years unfold.

In other news, Cunningham recently named two new hires for his State Senate staff. Dejon Morris as his office manager who will be in charge of constituent services, operating the Jersey City office to address the concerns of those residents of the district. Morris was formerly an employee of the Jersey City Department of Cultural Affairs.

The other new employee will be Tralone Shorter who will be the legislative director operating out of both Trenton and Jersey City. Shorter worked previously in the office of US Senator Frank Lautenberg, most recently as a special projects manager and brings a wealth of experience working in Trenton and in Washington D.C.

So far, Cunningham and Louis Manzo have their staffs in place but Anthony Chiappone is still working toward having a staff in place before the end of this week.

Ricardo Kaulessar - email

(201) 356-1300 x6287 - voicemail/fax



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