independent
Joe Piscopo spoke at a Montclair Republican Club lunch at the Greek Taverna restaurant on Wednesday. At right is John Van Wagner, president of the club. LINDA MOSS/STAFF

By LINDA MOSS
moss@montclairlocal.news

“Saturday Night Live” veteran and North Jersey native Joe Piscopo didn’t tip his hand on Wednesday at a luncheon for local Republicans, still declining to say whether he will run for governor as an independent. Even his mother is wondering about his decision. 

Piscopo, who has a show on conservative radio station WNYM, spoke at a Montclair Republican Club luncheon at the Greek Taverna restaurant, regaling about 35 attendees with his reasoning for considering a bid to seek election for the state’s highest office, but not on the GOP slate. Cracking jokes as well as talking about serious issues, Piscopo told the crowd that he just didn’t have enough time to mount a try as a Republican gubernatorial candidate, that the primary window was too short.

“I had my family to think of,” he said. “I had my work to think of.  I just signed a new contract at the radio station. I said, ‘How can I do everything and then run in it’ …  So we think, ‘Do I run right down the middle as an independent just to rip it up?’”

He has more time, until June 6, to file a petition to run as an independent.

The comedian has caused a stir in New Jersey political circles with his possible campaign and comments about it being unlikely that the GOP will win the governor’s race in November after Chris Christie held that post for eight years. The Republican gubernatorial field this year includes Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno and Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, R-Somerset.

Piscopo, describing himself as “fired up,” said that some have complained that if he runs as an independent he will siphon votes from the eventual Republican GOP candidate.

“I think I’d take more votes away from the Democrats,” he said. “I may get Kim elected. I’m not sure.”

Piscopo’s mother, Edith Piscopo, 92, clad in a purple blazer and bright print scarf, attended the luncheon. 

“I am very proud of him,” the North Caldwell resident said of her son.

Even she is mulling the consequences if he decides to run for office. 

“I’m praying to God that Joe makes the right decision,” she said.

Piscopo said Republicans have a chance to make inroads in state government in November. 

“The Democrats are not happy,” he said. “There is a golden opportunity to take back Trenton. … If the Democrats get in, the state will be unsustainable in two years.”

“No one’s talking about property taxes,” he said, referring to other candidates for governor. “What you pay in property taxes in Montclair, New Jersey, should be criminal.”

Describing himself as “a pro-union conservative,” Piscopo said he supports giving tax breaks to teachers, police and firefighters, and then telling them, “Now let’s renegotiate pension and welfare” benefits.

“That’s the way to do it,” he said.

He also blamed administrative costs, superintendent not teacher salaries, for making taxes in the state soar. 

“You have to put a cap on the administrative costs of education,” Piscopo said. “There’s more school districts than municipalities. That’s crazy.”

The state needs to generate more revenue, and can do so by encouraging manufacturing, with one option being private-public partnerships with nations such as China, according to Piscopo. He also described initiatives to bring back pharmaceutical companies to New Jersey, including attracting generic drug firms to Camden.

Originally from Passaic, Piscopo now lives in Lebanon, New Jersey. He told the luncheon attendees that he grew up in Bloomfield and North Caldwell, and went to West Essex High School in Caldwell. During his remarks Piscopo spoke about the high taxes in the Garden State as well as in the township. He said he has been talking to union and political officials, as well as business executives, as he mulls a run for office.

“I’m an entertainer, but I listen,” he said. “And from the radio show, it’s been like going to a political science class. I have access to everybody.”

Roland Straten, chairman of the Montclair Republican Committee, was at the lunch. 

“I’m here to listen,” he said. 

It would be very hard for an independent candidate to win the gubernatorial race in New Jersey, according to Straten.

“A lot of people will just vote a line,” he said.

John Van Wagner, president of the Montclair Republican Club, said of Piscopo, “A lot of the ideas he’s espousing right now if he does run as an independent are very much ideas that would have serious relevance to New Jersey.”

At the lunch Piscopo said that he voted for Donald Trump for president.

“I make no apologies for it,” Piscopo said. “He talked about infrastructure. He talked about jobs.”