To Ocean County’s political folklore, add the cannoli moment.
Joe Vicari, proud of his Italian and Jersey City heritage, must be feeling the heat in his bid for yet another on Ocean County’s all-Republican freeholder board.
Sponges used to be his campaign mainstay. “The guy with the most sponges wins,’’ he likes to joke. Only this year there’s no guy trying to unseat him.
Instead it’s of Waretown, who once served on the old Dover Township Committee before Vicari, the late Tom Renkin, and political sniper Robert Haelig put the Grand Old Party back in control of the county seat.
Rosen’s is aggressive, fact-filled assaults on opponents. Her manner sometimes generates what one grizzled veteran of Lacey Township politics ascribed to then-Lacey Mayor Ted Hutler: “negative charisma.’’
Vicari, by contrast, has never seen a baby he would not kiss, he would not wave, a back he would not slap, hand he would not shake, or camera he could not charm into operation. He even squeezed the abundant teat of a goat at the Ocean County Fair many years ago, milking it while the flashbulbs popped. What publisher could resist?
This year’s Vicari-Rosen race got off to an especially nasty start. She ripped him for retiring as Berkeley’s and as a freeholder, collecting pensions from both jobs, and continuing to work at them both.
Gloves off. Vicari said Rosen’s rocky financial past should make voters question if she should be running the county government. He dropped the “I’’ bomb, her indictment for theft by deception, a charge quickly dismissed when the odor of politics overwhelmed the reviewing judge.
All this and it’s only April. A week ago a woman from Seaside Heights who alternately says she will run for mayor and complains about bedbugs and pesticides, challenged Vicari to produce an Easter holiday treat – a cannoli at the next meeting.
“OK,’’ Vicari replied.
“Me too,’’ added Rosen.
Caucus meetings of the freeholders don’t draw flies, although that’s where the groundwork for public sessions the following week is done. I’d never seen Rosen, or any other freeholder candidate at one of those sessions – before Wednesday.
Shortly after the meeting started, Rosen showed up. Tedium endured, pontifications complete, the freeholders were about to go into a closed-door (I used to call them secret) session.
“One more thing,’’ Vicari said. Out the door he goes, returning with a big platter with a high plastic cover.
“These were filled at 3:30 p.m.,’’ Vicari insists, working hard to pry the top off the platter. Cannolis, traditional, even chocolate, are offered all around. Journalistic ethics are abandoned. Rosen digs in. Soon the platter is plundered.
“I’ve got four left, come on Carl,’’ Vicari says repeatedly to Carl Block, the clerk of the freeholder board. Block is a man who has just unloaded a lot of weight. His discipline is unshakable. “Come on John,’’ Vicari urges Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr., another steadfast abstainer.
The Sicilian pastries are delicious, the promise of recent filling kept. Keep them filled for too long and the shell gets soggy.
There is still hope of a scandal here. Let Vicari claim he made them and I’ve got him. I know I’ve got him because I recognize the platter. I had its twin at my house for Easter. It looked like it came from a local place called Luigi’s.
Vicari came clean about the source of the cannolis.
“We were butchers, not bakers,’’ he said of the trade of his father that he adopted when he needed a second job after he moved to Toms River.
Whether he will be sharpening up his knives again after the cannoli moment is unclear. Perhaps Sicilian civility has been restored.