New Jersey 13th District
Standing in New York Harbor since 1886, the Statue of Liberty has been the symbol of America’s receptiveness to immigrants. Actually, the statue is on the New Jersey side of the harbor, and so is, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1998, most of Ellis Island, where immigrants once were processed. So it’s natural that the towns atop the granite and gneiss ridge of Hudson County, overlooking the harbor, became immigrant territory. Many children and grandchildren of Irish and Italian immigrants stayed in Hudson County, living in the same neighborhoods, working on the same docks or factories, and voting the dictates of the same political machine. Hudson County was the setting of one of America’s classic political machines, undisciplined by any metropolitan elite. From 1917 to 1949, the boss of Hudson County was Frank (‘‘I am the law’’) Hague. His machine chose governors and U.S. senators, prosecutors and judges, and had influence in the White House of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hague collected high taxes from industries clustered here, who then passed them on to consumers everywhere, and in return, he gave them an orderly city, free of most crime and vice, and a workforce insulated against racketeers and militant unions. Hague’s successor, John V. Kenny, was boss from 1949 to 1971—continuous power for 54 years.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
But Hudson County began changing. New immigrants were coming in—refugees from Castro’s Cuba and other Latinos and Asians arrived after the 1965 immigration act. Union City became predominantly Cuban; Jersey City neighborhoods became heavily Latino. Starting in the 1980s, huge new condominium and office developments went up in Jersey City, with back-office buildings for big banks and securities firms and, later, Internet content businesses. Upscale young singles looking for lower rents moved into Hoboken’s five-story Victorians that sparkle with light off the Hudson; they were just a quick commute through the PATH tubes to Wall Street or Greenwich Village. In Hoboken, the home of Frank Sinatra and the Oreo cookie, shopping and apartment complexes have taken up the waterfront sites where Maxwell House Coffee and Lipton Tea once had factories (and where the movie classic On the Waterfront was filmed). Bayonne has become a cruise-ship port. Ferries from Weehawken assisted in the miraculous rescue of the US Airways flight that made an emergency landing in the Hudson River in January 2009. Meanwhile, new immigrants continue to arrive. As middle-class Cubans move to Bergen County suburbs and the Jersey mainstream, Union City is less Cuban and more Colombian, Ecuadoran, Peruvian, Dominican, and Filipino. Hudson County, which seemed to be dying a generation ago, is now pulsing with new life.
The 13th Congressional District of New Jersey includes most of Hudson County, plus most of the immigrant entry ports along the water, from West New York and Weehawken, where Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804, south past Jersey City and Bayonne, where you can still find bocce courts. It extends past the Port of New York and New Jersey to the waterfront areas of Elizabeth, Linden, Carteret (with a large Sikh community), Woodbridge, and Perth Amboy. The district’s population is 49% Hispanic and also includes the Ironbound district of Newark, with its Portuguese and Brazilian immigrants; working-class Harrison, an aging factory town where European immigrants have been replaced by Hispanic immigrants; and part of industrial Kearny. The 13th is heavily Democratic.