By David Cruz
Sen. Bob Menendez comes from Union City, a city that once reelected its mayor on the day after his sentencing on corruption charges. That’s the very same mayor who was once a mentor to Menendez, whose testimony helped convict that mayor, against whom Menendez would run and lose. This is the kind of murky milieu from which Menendez emerged to eventually become a mayor, state senator, congressman and, ultimately, one of the most powerful members of the U.S. Senate.
“Bob Menendez has always been a scrapper, has always been a fighter and he honed those skills in Hudson County where he’s had to fight for everything,” said Congressman Albio Sires.
Over the years, Menendez has evolved. The chubby and somewhat boyish mayor — the first Latino to hold that post in Union City — helped to shift the base of power in Hudson County northward. He won election to Congress in 1992 after redistricting made the district heavily Latino. Congressman Sires — who succeeded Menendez in Congress and has known him for more than 20 years — says the senator’s working-class roots has informed his public work.
“This is not a privileged guy; this is somebody that came from public schools, didn’t come from wealth. He’s risen to be one of the most outstanding senators in the country, nobody handed that to him. He fought,” Sires said.
Menendez served 13 years in the House, where he developed a reputation as something of a bulldog, especially on foreign affairs, with a concentration on Russia, Cuba and Iran. In 2006, he was appointed to the U.S. Senate by Gov. Jon Corzine. But his tenure has not been without controversy. When he was running for reelection in 2012, then U.S. Attorney Chris Christie launched what many believe was a politically-motivated investigation into Menendez’s dealings with a local non-profit. It went nowhere and the next U.S. Attorney sent a formal letter of apology to Menendez. Then, came a story about Menendez cavorting with underaged prostitutes in the Dominican Republic.
“I welcome any review, but I have no intention of having the smears try to deviate me from the work that I have been doing and will continue to do,” Menendez said. “I have no intention of [stepping down] whatsoever.”
That story, too, proved to have no legs, but it started the investigation that ultimately led to today’s indictments. As rumors swirled about the potential for indictments, Menendez remained defiant.
“I have always conducted myself appropriately and in accordance with the law,” he said. “That’s who I am, and I am not going anywhere.”
His supporters remain steadfast.
“I can speak to what I know, and what I’ve experience which is that Sen. Menendez has been a phenomenal senator for Newark and for New Jersey,” said Sen. Cory Booker.
There are already some calls for Menendez to resign. It seems unlikely, though, that the man who fought a hundred Hudson County political street fights and once threatened to go thermonuclear on his political opponents, will go quietly into the night. It just wouldn’t be the Hudson County way.