No devotee of Gov. Jon Corzine, freshman Perth Amboy Councilman Ken Balut nevertheless says he doesn't get the sense there's any Democratic Party exodus in his direction, and therefore plans to end his campaign for governor.
His decision comes after Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz advised him to rethink his plan, and a day after political consultant James Devine sent out an email declaring Balut's intention to run a scrappy, anti-establishment campaign against Corzine.
An entrenched opponent of Democratic State Committee Chairman Joseph Cryan and a critic of Corzine's, Devine advised Balut to get in the statewide primary, and as of Sunday remained convinced the councilman would remain steadfast in his dedication to a blue collar run for governor.
"He's exploring a run in the primary," Devine told PolitickerNJ.com. "He's laying the groundwork but he hasn't filed the paperwork. He's running."
But following a Thursday lunch meeting with Diaz at the Barge on Perth Amboy's waterfront in which the mayor asked Balut to join her in focusing on the city and its street-level problems rather than creating a distraction with a quixotic run for higher office, Balut admitted she had a point.
"I'm planning to call him Monday to let him know I'm not gathering support, I don't see any support out there," the 51-year old Balut said of communication he intends to have with Devine.
"I'm not a politician," he added. "All I'm trying to do is advocate for our state."
Charged up by the success of Barack Obama's grassroots run for president and frustrated by what he says is the Corzine administration's failure to help Perth Amboy, Balut said he told Devine last week to go ahead and start an exploratory committee for a gubernatorial run.
As for Devine's dramatic Friday morning email, "Maybe that was jumping the gun," the councilman acknowledged.
Since his own local clash with the party in 2006, Devine said he has struggled to make child support payments - the combined result of getting shut out by one-time friends who are now sealed in the establishment firmament, and a 2004 car accident that left him with four herniated discs and unable for a time to make money. But he denied forcing Balut into an irreversible or embarrassing position as a declared candidate for governor with the email blast last Friday.
"I don't think Kenny Balut is going to run for governor because of my economic situation," Devine said. "That's preposterous. This is a real guy, a police officer and union man who understands common people's problems."
Balut was part of the Diaz team that last year shocked the state when they toppled long-time Mayor Joe Vas. In her conversation with him on Thursday, Diaz reminded the retired patrolman of their need to work at the street level in conjunction with the Corzine administration.
Balut wants to help Diaz. He ran with her and he said he respects her. But he said he remains firm in his belief that the governor is practically hopeless.
"All these years when Vas was mayor they (Democrats) gave money to the cities, and all of a sudden there's nothing (under Corzine)," Balut said. "Vas owed $5 million to the water department. He didn't pay the water bill going back to 2004. And now Corzine (isn't) giving us a penny. He gave Newark $45 million. Is it possible for him to give us some aid, and if he did, is it possible for me to change my mind? The key word is possible."
Sources close to the mayor say she made her decision to speak to Balut alone and without consultation with the governor's office or the state committee.
In attendance at her swearing-in ceremony last year was then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, who next month intends to formally launch his Republican campaign for governor.
"Chris Christie is the only one who's done anything for ethics in New Jersey," Balut said. "If I don't run, I'll back Christie."
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"It's incredible, it's a dream. I would never have imagined that I would be running for mayor, but to have Ken Gibson say that, I didn't expect it. Having Ken Gibson on my side is the ultimate reference check. It's the ultimate in street credibility. Mr. Gibson said it, when he was running for mayor, people said that they weren't ready, but Mr. Gibson said 'ready or not, here I come.' I think that's apropos for my campaign. Newark is ready for this." Newark Mayoral candidate Ras Baraka- PolitickerNJ.com
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