You knew there had to be at least one funny Jersey angle to this whole sordid cynical story of NJ corruption, didn’t you? I guarantee you haven’t heard this story yet. I was fortunate to witness the craziness firsthand and simply remembering it still makes me laugh, if only for a moment, until the seriousness of the corruption once again sets in.
Funny Fort Lee
At the time, a few of my friends from Fort Lee, a wonderful bunch who have the most infectious sense of humor and share it generously, came up with a silly idea. While Chris Christie was running for Governor against Jon Corzine, these Fort Lee folks wondered, wouldn’t it be fun to run a campaign for Governor by a comedian they knew who is beloved and revered by New Jersey natives?
The idea was hatched in early 2009 by a few members of the Fort Lee Film Commission while they were working together on a radio comedy show called Garden State Jubilee with NJ TV personality Uncle Floyd Vivino. The show was to be an authentic Jersey version of the Prairie Home Companion. (I know, right?) The idea was so absurd, that it cracked me up and I just had to take part when they approached me to sing on the show as they were looking for local Jersey talent (that would perform for free). Movie theater impresario Nelson Page offered to let us use his movie theaters for the shows which had a live audience. The main attraction was Uncle Floyd, who would do his vaudeville Italian Jersey shtick while playing piano. He always loved to have folks in the audience sit in on his shows and you just never knew what would happen next. The skits would focus on pure Jersey characters.
Tom Meyers, the former Fort Lee Councilman and founding member of the Fort Lee Film Commission was involved, as was Lou Azzolini – also a founding member of the film Commission who does their artwork. Donna Brennan, now President of the Fort Lee Historical Society and crackerjack film professional, was taping the shows, and Tom Meyers’ sister, Ann was helping write the material like a Tina Fey behind the scenes. Comedian and performer Shelly Watson provided a lot of the sass, and funny characters for the skits along with Michael Wright, and Thaddeus MacGregor of Englewood provided the rim shots and backing music for Uncle Floyd and the other performers. It was a labor of love by local New Jerseyans who realized there is a lot of humor in NJ’s dysfunction and they just adore Uncle Floyd who captures New Jersey’s sense of humor perfectly. Although Garden State Jubilee was not officially a project of the Fort Lee Film Commission, the folks involved were founders of the Fort Lee Film Commission.
Garden State Jubiliee was recorded in early 2009, while the Gubernatorial race was getting ramped up. It was during that time, that someone thought it would be great fun to pretend Uncle Floyd was running for Governor. Lou Azzolini, Tom Meyers and Nelson Page created the campaign to just “Cry Uncle” and Uncle Floyd was billed as a write in candidate for New Jersey Governor. It was completely meant to be a joke. However, a few folks did not see the humor in it. Particularly folks working for the Christie campaign. Specifically, a political blogger named Wally Edge. You all know him as David Wildstein, who played the pivotal role in the Bridgegate lane closings.
Tom Meyers got a call from PolitickerNJ one day to ask about Floyd’s campaign, because this is New Jersey and suddenly, the beloved Uncle Floyd was starting to get endorsements. Immediately after the phone call, Wally Edge himself posted a news story about Floyd’s campaign and used half of the ink in that story to tout a Christie campaign fundraiser event. (Which is why I don’t view David Wildstein’s PoliticsNJ as a non-partisan website, but a vehicle used to get Christie elected.) Apparently, Christie’s folks were worried because Uncle Floyd was actually ahead in the early polls, to the great (and amusing) consternation of Uncle Floyd, who had absolutely zero intention of being Governor. Some guys just didn’t get the joke. Entire towns actually started to endorse Floyd. The Fort Lee boys thought it was hilarious, and so did I.
The eerie thing about the fake campaign, was a series of mock campaign commercials on the internet that turned out to be presecient. The campaign slogan was “Cry Uncle – Vote for Uncle Floyd!” One “commercial” discussed the terrible traffic in NJ and another included the development known as Xanadu in the Meadowlands, that is now known as American Dream – a project now mentioned in the Bridgegate affair with Samson ties that some political bloggers think may bring down members of the administration of the Bergen County Executive. In the commercial, Lou Azzolini plays the “architect” being interviewed by Floyd about how he picked the colors for Xanadu, widely regarding as the ugliest building in NJ. Of course it makes perfect sense as you watch the video that the Xanadu “architect” is blind.
The serious side effect of the Cry Uncle campaign and what looks in retrospect as political payback from the Christie Administration, was that when Christie was elected, he wasted no time in getting rid of the Tax Credit for film makers who work in New Jersey in 2010. The Fort Lee Film Commission was extremely upset when that credit, which made millions for the State of New Jersey and encouraged shows like Law and Order to film here, was cut in 2010. The loss of that credit was the reason that Boardwalk Empire, an HBO series about Atlantic City, was filmed in New York rather than in New Jersey, which could have used those millions. What is interesting in light of the Bridgegate revelations is that Christie’s spokesman was fine with Jersey Shore getting a $420,000 film credit in 2013, for use in Seaside Heights right before the election. They were in hot water for getting rid of the credit 2010 and in 2013 were in hot water for selectively giving nearly a half million tax credits to Snooki’s friends in Seaside after Sandy hit.
As for Bridgegate, the two lanes that were closed in September almost also derailed financing for the billion dollar project located right near the George Washington Bridge. The project is slated to include a special film visitor’s center and a movie theater touting Fort Lee’s historic contributions to the modern motion picture industry. The development project was heartily endorsed and anxiously awaited by the Fort Lee Film Commission because the birthplace of the Motion Picture Industry before there was a Hollywood, Fort Lee, currently has no movie theaters located in its borders with the exception of the small auditorium at the Fort lee Historic Park and the outdoor screen at the Fort Lee Community Center.
Although we still don’t know exactly why David Wildstein and friends closed the two lanes onto the Bridge, I wouldn’t be surprised if Christie’s political machine took at least a little pleasure in giving Fort Lee a hard time because of the agita caused by a beloved NJ comedian named Uncle Floyd and his mischievous, but good-hearted movie-loving, Fort Lee friends during the first Christie gubernatorial campaign.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.