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How Not To Announce For Senate

The Fix has been preoccupied of late with the Democratic presidential race, the start of the Major League Baseball season (go Nats!) and the NCAA tournament.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey New Jersey Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, 84, announces his candidacy for reelection Monday in Trenton as wife Bonnie S. Englebardt, left and Gov. Jon S. Corzine, right, look on. (AP Photo)

But, the events of the last week or so in New Jersey's Senate race cannot go by without comment.

As we have written previously on the Fix, Republicans believe that Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg's reelection numbers are weak in the state and that he is one of only a few Democratic incumbents who could be ripe for picking in 2008.

When Anne Evans Estabrook (R), a wealthy developer and the preferred candidate of national Republicans, opted out of the race for health reasons, GOPers immediately went searching for another self-funding candidate to make a run at Lautenberg.

And it looked like they found their guy -- Andy Unanue, a member of the family that manages the massive empire of Goya Foods. Unanue, a former chief operating officer at Goya, appeared willing to spend from his family's fortunes to fund a race.

It all seemed so perfect. Until it wasn't.

Unanue confirmed his decision to run for the Senate on Easter Sunday -- a BIG news day (not) -- with a press release issued from Vail. Didn't know there was a Vail, New Jersey? That's because there isn't.

Unanue announced his candidacy all the way from snowy Colorado, where he and his family were on a skiing vacation. Did we mention that Unanue was also going to miss the all-important county conventions in a number of key New Jersey counties because of this skiing trip? (It didn't seem to make much difference to Ocean County Republicans, at least, who threw their support to the absent Unanue.)

If the Vail incident had been the extent of Unanue's problems, we might have given him a pass. After all, making your first run for office is a huge endeavor and who wouldn't forget to dot an "i" or cross a "t" along the way?

Unfortunately for Unanue and national Republicans, the problems were only just beginning.

Here's a sampling of the headlines that came out of New Jersey over the past week regarding Unanue: "NJ Senate candidate Andy Unanue fell from grace at family's company", "Senate hopeful dogged by ugly family feud" and, The Fix's personal favorite: "Candidate's Not an N.J. resident, yet"

WOW. So, it turns out that Unanue and his father were ousted from their perches at the top of the Goya food chain (ahem). In a lawsuit that followed the firings, allegations were made that Unanue came to work drunk, a charge that Unanue -- sort of -- denied. "Work hard, play hard. That was my motto," he said, explaining that he came to work functions hung over but never drunk.

Then there is the issue of residence. Unanue acknowledged to the Bergen Record that, no, he did not live in the Garden State at the moment but had two real estate agents currently looking for a residence.

In that same story Unanue offered this pearl of wisdom about the rough start of his candidacy: "Everybody's been trying to offer me advice but I want to be honest, I'm not a politician. And I don't think this is what the people of New Jersey are going to care about at the end of the day. I'm moving back home and I'm thrilled about it."

Indeed.

Republicans, rightly concerned about Unanue's prospects moving forward in the race, looked like they might get a lifeline in the form of pharmaceutical executive John Crowley, who was openly considering the contest. Crowley, however, got out earlier today, although we hear there's still a slim chance he will reconsider that decision.

If Crowley is out and Unanue is the candidate, this race is a decided long shot for Republicans. The mistakes Unanue made in the first week of the race are an opposition researcher's dream and would assuredly come back to haunt him this summer and fall if he winds up as the nominee.

Republicans may well look at the Unanue train wreck and see a major lost opportunity. While Lautenberg announced he was running again with nearly the entire Democratic House delegation as well as Gov. Jon Corzine (D) at his side, there appears to be some level of unrest within the party about the 84-year-old Lautenberg seeking another six-year term.

First, former state Democratic Party chairman (and son of former governor Brendan Byrne) Tom Byrne considered entering the race before deciding against it. And now, PolitickerNJ -- a premiere state-based blog -- is reporting that Rep. Rob Andrews (D), who has been pining for a statewide office for which to run for years, is also weighing a bid.

Our guess? Lautenberg has played his politics well over the years and has surrounded himself with smart advisers who know New Jersey well. It's going to be tough for Andrews or anyone else to find a way to beat Lautenberg in a primary. And incumbent members of Congress don't give up their coveted seats to charge at windmills.

If Andrews passes and Lautenberg gets Unanue as his Republican opponent, it could be a snoozer of a reelection for the Democratic incumbent.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 31, 2008; 6:24 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Comments

Chris, good local story.

Is NJ sort of like a crowded Louisiana, but without charm or alligators?

An Indiana judge and I were having lunch last week after the horny governor stories in NY and NJ and he said, mildly, "It really must
be different in the northeast."

Especially in NJ.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | April 2, 2008 12:04 AM | Report abuse

Screw the Nats...Go Caps!!!!


Anyway, are there any normal politicians in New Jersey? How does a party that went through the Torricelli and McGreevey messes manage to increase their power????

Posted by: ctyankeeboy1638 | April 1, 2008 7:12 PM | Report abuse

I saw this in the Swing State Project the other day and I laughed. To not cut short one's family vacation when county conventions are already underway shows that he is not very serious about this. Repub leaders in NJ keep picking through their rolodexes to find a millionaire, but aren't the two candidates already running, St Sen Pannachio (sp?) and Murray Sabrin, already building support?

Posted by: stpaulsage | April 1, 2008 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Chris,

I know you won't get told this today, but I thought this was an interesting piece.

Thanks for writing it.

Posted by: USMC_Mike | April 1, 2008 12:56 PM | Report abuse

People, don't paste these page long screeds. No one reads them and they are annoying to scroll past. NJ Republicans are among the most incompetent in the country and that's saying a lot. And now, the war...

Euguene Robinson shares my assessment:

"Quite a "defining moment" in Iraq, wasn't it? At this rate, John McCain is going to be proved right: The war will last a century.

That is indeed what McCain meant, by the way, no matter how his apologists try to spin it. Those who claim that by "a hundred years" McCain was talking about a long-term peacetime deployment like the U.S. military presence in South Korea are being disingenuous or obtuse. In and around Seoul, citizens aren't shooting at American soldiers or trying to blow them up with roadside bombs -- and U.S. combat forces aren't taking sides in bloody internecine battles over power and wealth.

It was George W. Bush who called last week's fighting in Basra and other Iraqi cities a defining moment for the fledgling government. By that standard, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been defined as an impulsive leader and an inept general -- and his government as a work barely in progress."

Posted by: drindl | April 1, 2008 8:29 AM | Report abuse

People don't paste these page long screeds. No one reads them and they are annoying to scroll past. NJ Republicans are among the most incompetent in the country and that's saying a lot. And now, the war...

Euguene Robinson shares my assessment:

"Quite a "defining moment" in Iraq, wasn't it? At this rate, John McCain is going to be proved right: The war will last a century.

That is indeed what McCain meant, by the way, no matter how his apologists try to spin it. Those who claim that by "a hundred years" McCain was talking about a long-term peacetime deployment like the U.S. military presence in South Korea are being disingenuous or obtuse. In and around Seoul, citizens aren't shooting at American soldiers or trying to blow them up with roadside bombs -- and U.S. combat forces aren't taking sides in bloody internecine battles over power and wealth.

It was George W. Bush who called last week's fighting in Basra and other Iraqi cities a defining moment for the fledgling government. By that standard, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been defined as an impulsive leader and an inept general -- and his government as a work barely in progress."

Posted by: drindl | April 1, 2008 8:24 AM | Report abuse

People don't paste these page long screeds. No one reads them and they are annoying to scroll past. NJ Republicans are among the most incompetent in the country and that's saying a lot. And now, the war...

Euguene Robinson shares my assessment:

"Quite a "defining moment" in Iraq, wasn't it? At this rate, John McCain is going to be proved right: The war will last a century.

That is indeed what McCain meant, by the way, no matter how his apologists try to spin it. Those who claim that by "a hundred years" McCain was talking about a long-term peacetime deployment like the U.S. military presence in South Korea are being disingenuous or obtuse. In and around Seoul, citizens aren't shooting at American soldiers or trying to blow them up with roadside bombs -- and U.S. combat forces aren't taking sides in bloody internecine battles over power and wealth.

It was George W. Bush who called last week's fighting in Basra and other Iraqi cities a defining moment for the fledgling government. By that standard, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been defined as an impulsive leader and an inept general -- and his government as a work barely in progress."

Posted by: drindl | April 1, 2008 8:18 AM | Report abuse

newsday.com/news/nationworld/ny-ushill305631627mar30,0,1508575.story

Newsday.com
Clinton campaign head made $200,000 with subprime lender
BY GLENN THRUSH

glenn.thrush@newsday.com

March 30, 2008

WASHINGTON - Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign manager, Maggie Williams, earned about $200,000 on the board of a Long Island subprime lender that charged prepayment penalties - a practice that Clinton, a critic of the subprime industry, now seeks to eliminate.

Williams, who took over the reins of Clinton's campaign in early February, served as a director on the board of the Woodbury-based Delta Financial Corp. from April 2000 until the firm declared bankruptcy in December, according to Securities and Exchange Commission records.

She was recruited by former New York City Deputy Mayor Bill Lynch, a Delta consultant. Her assignments were to create a new code of "best practices," and to improve the company's crisis management operation in the wake of state and federal predatory lending probes that resulted in a $12 million payout to borrowers.

Her hiring coincided with stepped-up Delta outreach efforts in minority communities, where the company made a large number of its loans, an initiative that included parties for homeless children and mortgage seminars in Brooklyn and Queens.

Williams, 53, isn't the only Clinton insider who made money from an industry the candidate has demonized. A month ago, The Wall Street Journal reported that Clinton ally and former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros grossed more than $5 million in stock sales and board compensation from Countrywide Financial, one of the nation's largest subprime lenders.

Once a poster child for predatory practices, Delta's reputation improved substantially until it buckled, as executives avoided adjustable-rate mortgages for fixed-rate loans, which have fewer defaults.

To boost revenue in the absence of high-profit adjustable loans, the company charged relatively steep interest rates - 11 percent in 2007 - and levied higher-than-prime-loan closing costs.

And Delta assessed penalties to borrowers who paid off before their loans matured - a practice Clinton frequently decries on the campaign trail.

"I would eliminate the prepayment penalties that lead to such high rates of default," Clinton said in a March 24 speech at the University of Pennsylvania. "I would require lenders to take into account the borrower's ability to pay property taxes and insurance fees when deciding whether to make a loan in the first place."

Subprime loans come with higher interest rates and are offered to borrowers with poor credit. The loans soared along with the housing boom and are an underlying cause of the current credit crisis.

Williams downplayed her role at the company, saying, through an assistant that she served only in "an advisory/oversight capacity."

In a statement released through Clinton's campaign, Delta senior vice president Marc Miller said Williams "did not have a role in the day-to-day operations and management."

Calls to Delta executives, board members and their bankruptcy lawyer weren't returned. The company's switchboard and Web site have been deactivated in the last few days.

Williams turned down repeated requests to be interviewed, although her assistant, Amee Patel, provided brief responses to several written questions by e-mail.

Asked if Williams shared her experiences in the industry with Clinton, Patel responded, "She generally does not discuss her business, board memberships or organizational affiliations with the Senator."

For her services on the board, Williams was paid around $30,000 per year plus expenses and granted at least 25,000 stock options, according to the SEC.

Records show she was able to cash in some of the options for a profit of about $15,000 during a temporary rise in Delta's stock price in July 2007.

"She lost remaining options due to the company bankruptcy," Patel wrote in an e-mail.

A month later, in August 2007, Delta was shaken by a sudden contraction of the credit markets and began a first wave of layoffs. By year's end, the company had laid off all but 50 of its 1,350 employees after bailout attempts failed and the credit crisis deepened.

Like many prominent African Americans, Williams, who served as Hillary Clinton's top White House adviser from 1993 to 1997, initially had high hopes subprime lending would offer homeowning opportunities to inner-city families long stymied by discriminatory bank practices.

Speaking to Directors & Boards magazine in June 2000, Williams said she was excited about offering Delta's home equity loans to working families trying to move into the middle class.

"There are people who miss payments and have bad credit for all kinds of reasons," she said. "It is a very middle-American kind of problem, although I believe it does affect poor people disproportionately."

In the article, Williams said her first tasks were building a new communications operation and learning the ins-and-outs of subprime lending from Hugh Miller, the company's chief executive. "Hugh was really my teacher in all of this," she told the magazine.

If Williams was impressed, others remained skeptical of Delta's reinvention, with some watchdog groups arguing the company continued to aggressively market high-fee loans to low-income borrowers, driving them deeper into debt.

"There was some improvement after the settlement, but they were still the most aggressive company," said Matthew Lee, founder of the Bronx-based Fair Finance Watch, a nonprofit that monitors inner-city lending.

Posted by: fred_flintstone | April 1, 2008 4:49 AM | Report abuse

vbhoomes is working on his post claiming that this is EXACTLY where the NRSC wants to have us Democrats so they can fool us into false complacency. This is clearly evidence that Lautenberg is toast.

Posted by: jon.morgan.1999 | April 1, 2008 2:10 AM | Report abuse

vbhoomes is working on his post claiming that this is EXACTLY where the NRSC wants to have us Democrats so they can fool us into false complacency. This is clearly evidence that Lautenberg is toast.

Posted by: jon.morgan.1999 | April 1, 2008 2:10 AM | Report abuse

vbhoomes is working on his post claiming that this is EXACTLY where the NRSC wants to have us Democrats so they can fool us into false complacency. This is clearly evidence that Lautenberg is toast.

Posted by: jon.morgan.1999 | April 1, 2008 2:02 AM | Report abuse

Ever consider that the Bush-Cheney administration could have been manipulating the economy and devaluing the dollar just to drive up oil and gasoline prices?

Posted by: BruceInDC | March 31, 2008 07:54 PM

Hey Bruce, how's that tinfoil hat fitting you? Whoa, is that black helicopters you see out the window of Mommy's basement?

Posted by: JD | March 31, 2008 10:54 PM | Report abuse

The Democrats in New Jersey are a bunch of scumbags - and that is said to be a bit kind to them with an eye to who is reading this.


What will happen next???


Posted by: Miata7 | March 31, 2008 9:56 PM | Report abuse

It's the Republican model for Presidency. Watch..He'll quit drinking, claim to be born again, gather a large number of previous administration members with lots of 'experience' in Washington and they'll try to sell him to the voters. I'll bet there are great pictures.

Posted by: thebobbob | March 31, 2008 9:25 PM | Report abuse

An arrogant Republican alcoholic engaged in a scandal? I don't believe it...

Posted by: thecrisis | March 31, 2008 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Ever consider that the Bush-Cheney administration could have been manipulating the economy and devaluing the dollar just to drive up oil and gasoline prices? Remember Cheney's secret energy summit in March 2001 to draft public policy? And that was only the first KNOWN illegal action committed after they took office. Wasn't Cheney being investigated in 1999 for illegal dealings with Iran and Iraq as CEO of Halliburton?

Posted by: BruceInDC | March 31, 2008 7:54 PM | Report abuse

This is why we follow politics. Pure comic gold!

Also, it's time for good folks to thank Sen. Lautenberg for stepping up when his party needed him, and wish him well in his retirement.

Further, go Nats!

Posted by: novamatt | March 31, 2008 7:39 PM | Report abuse

Wow, almost Clintonian and/or Spitzeresque in the amount of self destruction that Unanue engaged in.

Posted by: JD | March 31, 2008 7:25 PM | Report abuse

I think Bush has taken the heart out of a lot of Republicans, and not just in New Jersey. Cripes, Al Franken is a serious contender in Minnesota!

Posted by: corridorg4 | March 31, 2008 7:04 PM | Report abuse

Gov. Corzine and the Democrats are VERY unpopular in New Jersey these days, which normally would make Lautenberg vulnerable. The only problem is that Republicans are even MORE unpopular. As Republican Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia said recently, George W. Bush has killed the Republican brand.

The last time a Republican won a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey was 1972. If Republicans think they have a shot at turning the tide in "Blue Jersey" in 2008, they are delusional.

Posted by: harlemboy | March 31, 2008 7:00 PM | Report abuse

LOL. Classic republican clownishness and corruption.

Posted by: drindl | March 31, 2008 6:50 PM | Report abuse

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