Jersey City mayor yields unity

By Nicholas Sanchez
web posted March 5, 2001

By and large, Republicans are hardly more pathetic than when they try to do "outreach" to minorities and working-class citizens. Their efforts usually come off as perfunctory, and rarely do they yield any political fruit for the Grand Old Party.

Party officials were convinced that George W. Bush would change all of this in 2000. As governor of Texas he was able to glom on to more than 40 per cent of the Hispanic vote in his 1998 re-election bid. News of this made the hearts of dedicated Republicans all across the country flutter with excitement. And why not? This is a demographic, after all, that more than leans Democrat - it practically does yoga bends for the Dems.

Political strategists reasoned that if Bush could gain that type of result with Hispanics in Texas, he might just be able to gain votes nationally in the black community, thus extinguishing any of Al Gore's hopes of becoming president. Of course we all know what ultimately ended up happening. While Bush did eventually win the Electoral College, he did not win the popular vote, and he received less of the black vote than Bob Dole did in 1996.

So, while Bush's attempt to reach out to minorities and working-class types has been admirable (and far more thorough than any other national Republican candidate since Ronald Reagan), it has hardly been anything but successful. Which means that Republicans need to look elsewhere to find someone who can show them how to appeal to these people who seem to have a congenital aversion to the Republican Party.

Bret Schundler Enter Bret Schundler. While you may not have heard his name before, it is more than likely that you will hear it repeated many times over in the months to come. For the past couple of years, conservative and Republican activists have been doing cartwheels over this political novice. William F. Buckley and Jeffrey Hart have touted him as likely future presidential candidate. George Will and Grover Norquist have also taken notice of this man's accomplishments and record. The New York Times has spent a great deal of ink covering Schundler. And Republican leaders have been hosting and feting him all over the country. Not a bad bit of national attention for the mayor of Jersey City. Jersey City? Yep . . . Jersey City.

Hardly a hotbed of conservatism, Jersey City is a working class, Catholic city that is two-thirds minority. Which is why the 1993 election of Schundler - who is a pro-life, Harvard-educated investment banker, and a WASP to boot - flabbergasted the professional political handicappers. He was the first Republican to be elected as Mayor of Jersey City since World War I. And he not only won, but he won big. Running for his first full term, he managed to get 68 per cent of the vote. He was later re-elected by a similar margin.

Oh, and did I mention that he ran as a conservative? Which prompts the question: How did he do it?

When I posed this question to him a few weeks ago at a gathering of conservatives in Florida, he said quite plainly that he did it by going into the black communities and talking about school vouchers. He did it by going into the Hispanic communities and talking about tax-cuts and how they would affect individual families. To be succinct, he did it by going into communities that Republicans generally don't go to, and having a frank conversation with individuals, relating to them how his policies would change their lives.

What a concept. And even more exciting is that his policies worked.

Since being elected mayor, Bret Schundler reduced city spending and lowered taxes. He encouraged new businesses to come to Jersey City. As a result, Jersey City has in recent years created more new jobs than have been created in New Jersey's five other largest cities. More and more families are moving to Jersey City instead of out of it.

A devout Christian, Schundler fought for the rights of all of Jersey City's religious citizens, standing up to left-wing activists who objected to the public display of religious symbols (like the menorah). He took them to court and won. And now he wants to do for the state of New Jersey what he has done on the local level.

By tapping Christine Todd Whitman, the epitome of the Northeast Republican establishment, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, George W. Bush has done two things: one, he has paid a political debt to Whitman, who was one of his most vocal supporters during the past election. And two, he has removed one of the most liberal Republican governors from an important State House. Which is why Schundler now has the option of running for Governor. Of course, he has to win the primary first.

Because of his sincere conservative beliefs, the New Jersey state GOP Party is not too keen on Schundler's candidacy. However, he has demonstrated now for eight years that he is more than capable of bringing different people together to win a supermajority of the United States' 67th largest city. In fact, by pulling off what he has in a city that is as diverse as Jersey City, he has really presented a model for the Republican Party as a whole.

To find a leader who can expand the Party without diluting its principles, I am going to offer a piece of advice to the Republican Party that I never thought I would: Go East, young men.

Nicholas Sanchez is the Free Congress Foundation's Director of Development.

Visit Schundler's gubernatorial web site at

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