‘A rock star in Hudson County’: Menendez’s power base stays neutral after bribery indictment

Vainieri said as much earlier Saturday morning during a remote meeting with other New Jersey Democratic county chairs, according to three people familiar with his remarks.

Vainieri’s comments to POLITICO came after top New Jersey Democrats — including Gov. Phil Murphy, state Democratic Party Chair LeRoy Jones as well as influential Democratic Chairs in Middlesex, Bergen and Passaic counties — called for Menendez’s resignation. Federal prosecutors allege Menendez and his wife engaged in corrupt acts in exchange for cash, gold bars and a luxury vehicle.

Menendez, currently a Bergen County resident, has his political roots in Hudson County — an urban Democratic stronghold across the river from New York City notorious for its political fiefdoms and bossism. Hudson County is where Menendez started his political career in the 1970s as a school board member in Union City. At one point he wore a bulletproof vest to testify against his former political mentor — who was the mayor of Union City — during a corruption trial.

The only officials that have come to Menendez’s defense are himself and his son, Rep. Rob Menendez (D-N.J.); the elder Menendez helped him become a member of Congress and he represents much of Hudson County.

Vainieri said a statement of support for the senator is also not expected, and that he is still contacting local officials to discuss the situation.

“We’re not going to take a stand right now,” Vainieri said. “ I have not concluded all my meetings with the mayors and municipal chairs …. We’re just going to stay in the status quo right now until things iron out.”

Menendez has said he does not plan to resign, but he faces calls to do so from some from his colleagues in Washington.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), who represents a small part of Hudson County, has called for Menendez’s resignation, as have Democratic New Jersey Reps. Andy Kim; Mikey Sherrill; Frank Pallone; Donald Norcross; and Josh Gottheimer.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who defended Menendez in the past, has not publicly acknowledged Mendendez’s indictment since it was announced Friday. The New Jersey GOP state party has also called on Menendez’s resignation.

Mia McCarthy contributed to this report.

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