By Art Gallagher
Has anybody seen the real Anna Little lately? I haven’t seen her in months.
I’ve been intentionally restraining myself from writing about Anna Little since election day. We have a long history. Given that history, I offered her inner circle, which despite perceptions to the contrary I am not a member of, a private critique of what worked and what didn’t work about her congressional campaign. If not for our relationship, I just would have written my observations as I have after every election since I started this blog.
Little’s recent actions as Mayor of Highlands, my hometown, and the decision she will have to make next week over a labor agreement with the Highlands PBA compel me to treat her as I would any other public figure and write my observations with the candor I’ve been known for, yet have been withholding in her case.
When I started preparing this piece, it reminded me of the long running TV game show To Tell The Truth which ran in various forms from 1956 through 2002. The show featured a panel of four celebrities who were charged with correctly identifying a described contestant with an unusual occupation or experience. The “real” contestant and two impostors won the game if they fooled the panel. The real contestant was sworn to tell the truth when answering panelists’ questions. The impostors could lie. The game was over when the host said “Will the real X please stand up?”
The more I worked on the piece, the more I realized that To Tell The Truth didn’t fit. There were more than two impostors and they all inhabited the same body. Maybe Sybil is a more appropriate analogy. I don’t know that the psycho drama fits, but the multiple personalities and characters may be the majority of Little’s remaining supporters. Her Army is quickly becoming a figment of her imagination.
I think the real Anna Little is the woman I’ve known for almost 10 years. She’s been a principled public servant who would fight to do the right thing. She would fight for an ideal, regardless of the power and resources of her foes, winning and losing political battles, with scars. Often she produced improbable results. She always landed on her feet and emerged from battle with a smile. She was uncompromising to the point of being a pain the ass, but she was usually right.
The real Anna Little started the year as a Tea Party mama grizzly with charm. Tri-City News publisher Dan Jacobson called her “Sarah Palin with brains.” Her stump speech for the CD-6 congressional primary was musical and inspiring. It hit all the patriotic notes and inspired the best in her audiences. While she was challenging the establishment, she positioned herself as a uniter, promising the local and state party leadership that win or lose the primary she would rally her Tea Party supporters behind the Republican ticket.
Little delivered on her unity promise, partially, when she supported Joe Oxley for reelection as Monmouth County GOP Chairman hours after her stunning and improbable primary victory over Diane Gooch was official. However, she only went so far in uniting the troops. She never healed the primary wounds with the Gooch camp. There was griping and sniping from the Little camp throughout the general election campaign that the local GOP was not doing enough for her. She let that fester. While there was public unity with the Monmouth and Middlesex leadership, Little repeatedly snubbed the Union County GOP leadership. For now, let’s just say that Little’s horrendous showing in Plainfield was not solely the result of Frank Pallone’s superior ground game in the city.
The “real” Anna Little would not let those wounds fester.
Once she got her bearings in place for the general election, Little positioned herself as a “Chris Christie Republican” rather than a “Mama Grizzly.” This was not a Sybilesque malady, but smart political strategy. Christie had won the 6th congressional district in the previous election and his popularity was strong among the constituencies Little would have to win over in her quest to unseat Pallone.
When Little is on her game, her communications skills rival Christie’s and Palin’s. However, as the campaign progressed the inspiring stump speech she consistently delivered during the primary was often replaced with a defensive justification of her candidacy that fell flat. At home she would tell her audiences how much the national GOP and PACs in Washington loved her, as if the campaign was about her and as if her audiences cared. In Washington, she would tell her audiences how loved she was at home.
She was on her game and at her very best when among her enthusiastic supporters. Her performances at the debate at Temple Shalom in Aberdeen and at the health care forum in Red Bank were extraordinary. However, when in the presence of those who challenged her and without her “Army” to back her up, Little was often strident and argumentative. Her appearances with NJN’s Michael Aron, before the editorial boards of the Star Ledger and Asbury Park Press and one on one versus Pallone on News 12 are examples of when she was not at her best and needed to be.
Where was the “real” Anna Little?
Behind the scenes, Little actively alienated herself from long term supporters who would frankly tell her the truth about what was working and not working. It was as if she took constructive criticism from team members as personal attacks. The “real” Anna Little wouldn’t do that. She would argue and debate with trusted team members and then make a decision. The Anna Little that showed up during the general election campaign turned her back on her best local advisers and surrounded herself with “yes” men and women and people who did not know the district. She’d gone from a Palinesque Tea Partier, to a Christie Republican, to a Nixonian paranoid.
As the campaign reached its critical peak in mid-October, Little introduced yet another personality. She took a hard right turn and morphed into a Mike Huckabee Republican, only without the cornball charm. The fair tax, abortion and strict Ron Paulesque constitutionalist philosophy were not issues to emphasize during the last weeks of a general election campaign. Not when she had polling data that indicated a moderate Republican could defeat Pallone. She was pandering to her Right to Life supporters who were upset with how she handled the life question during her NJN appearance with Aron.
Despite these problems which were grumbled about behind the scenes among Tea Partiers and Regular Republicans alike, Little’s political stock was flying sky high, even after the polls closed and she lost by double digits when most observers were expecting a nail biter. In the final days of the election Monmouth County politicos were rooting for her victory because they didn’t want to have to compete with her in the event of a vacancy in the State Legislature after redistricting. Win or lose, she was expected to be a force to be reckoned with in Monmouth County politics.
In perhaps the fastest fall from grace since the Howard Dean scream, Little squandered torched that hard fought for political capitol before she got off the stage at her Shore Casino headquarters on election night. Apparently concerned about insulting either her Tea Party supporters or Regular Republicans who she never truly united, Little insulted both in her concession speech which was short on humility and gratitude and included an announcement of her 2012 candidacy for congress in a district that hasn’t been drawn yet, and the formation of three new political organizations, including one called “Anna’s Army” which she apparently presumed all of her hardworking supporters would just sign on for without any acknowledgement of what they had just finished doing and sacrificing. Did she expect to lose? How else could she have planned and even named these three new organizations within two hours of the polls closing? One television reporter commented on the air that Anna Little just wants the limelight.
Was this the “real” Anna Little? Did she have me fooled all these years? Was I the one who misunderstood her when I argued with others that they didn’t really know who she was? Maybe so.
This brings me to the present and why I’m writing this piece that has been eating me up inside since November 2.
I can support the Tea Party Mama Grizzly, the Christie Republican or the Huckabee Republican. The Nixonian paranoid is tough to deal with, but I’m Irish too and have dealt with such passive aggression for 52 years. I could forgive the election night performance and help her recover some of the political capitol she squandered. But I can’t support a Republican Mayor who is turning into a Corzine style Democrat as her latest character.
On December 1st Little sandbagged her Republican colleagues on the Highlands Council. She showed up unexpectedly and joined the Democrats on the council in approving a hastily drawn labor agreement that will either needlessly increase the costs of Highlands government or handcuff her successor in managing Highlands budget like Jon Corzine did when he made a hasty deal with the state workers unions on primary day in 2009 so that Vice President Joe Biden would join him on the stage for his campaign kickoff. Corzine’s deal prevented Governor Christie from laying off state workers during the first year of his administration. Little’s deal probably won’t prevent layoffs in the Highlands Police Department. More likely the deal will end up costing Highlands taxpayers between $60,000 and $150,000 over the next two fiscal years. Little knows this.
The payoff for Corzine’s expensive sellout was clear. What Little thinks she accomplishing, after assuring her Republican colleagues that she was with them, is a mystery. Maybe she’s delusional enough to think that her actions will win her union support in her hypothetical rematch with Pallone in 2012. Hopefully she just had a bad night and didn’t realize the consequences of her actions, despite her words to the contrary that evening and since.
Fortunately Little has a second chance with this one. The PBA agreement has to be voted on again on Wednesday December 15th. Little could miss the meeting, which means the agreement would not carry on a 2-2 vote. Or one of the Republican Littles could show up. For the sake of Highlands taxpayers, I hope the Little Corzine does not show up.