Today was one of those days where I felt like I woke up under very deep water, and have been slowly rising to the surface ever since. I have intermittently been battling sciatica recently, but today I didn't feel the sharp back and hip pains, so that was a plus.
It was Primary Day in New Jersey, so I walked over to the local polling station and selected from among the lackluster lineup of candidates on the Democratic ticket. Robert Menendez (at right, GetNj), formerly my Congressman and now the first Latino US Senator in state history, headed the Democratic Party slate. In the past, I'd voted for whoever was to his ideological and political left, but today there wasn't much of a choice, so he got my vote, and the current returns show that he'll be facing Republican blueblood scion State Senator Tom Kean Jr. in November. Next up was his US House replacement. Since Menendez was appointed to his Senate seat from a Congressional seat, it turns out that voters in the 13th district had to choose 1) someone to run in November on the Democratic ticket, and then someone to 2) fill the unexpired seat from November 2006 through November 2007, at which point the winner of 1) would then become the sitting Congressperson. The Democratic selections for 1) were Albio Sires, formerly the mayor of West New York and an assemblyman (since you can hold multiple offices in New Jersey) who eventually became the first Latino (Cuban-American) speaker of the New Jersey House as a result of some sort of political brokering, and Joseph "Joe" Vas, the former mayor of Perth Amboy and the "Democrats for America" candidate. Not to cast aspersions, but anyone with even passing familiarity with New Jersey might be given to pause a bit at the choice between former executives of West New York or Perth Amboy. Sires, though not Vas, was running for 2), against someone named James Geron from Guttenberg (a Hudson county town north of Jersey City that is about the size of a shoebox). Geron was running on the "Fighting Corruption" line, or something to that effect. I personally liked the ring of the slogan, which I'm sure was about as far as it went. When it came to this round of selections, I thought about closing my eyes and just picking whomever my finger landed on, but the possibility of accidentally selecting the lone unapposed Republican led me to take more care. Sires, it turns out, won both races handily, though Geron at least got one vote from Jersey City (that I know of).
In other races around the country, Democrat Jon Tester was leading state Auditor John Morrison in Montana's US Senate primary; the winner will face Abramoff scandal-tainted Republican Conrad Burns in November. In the Alabama governor's race, Republican incumbent Bob Riley beat back a challenge from religious fanatic Judge Roy Moore, while on the Democratic side, Lt. Governor Lucy Baxley appears to have defeated former governor Don Siegelman, who is facing several criminal indictments. In California, it's still too early to say whether Democrat Francine Busby defeated Republican Brian Bilbray in that state's conservative 50th Congressional District contest to replace convicted former Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham. If Busby were to win, some commentators have suggested it would be a bellwether for the Republicans' November fortunes, though I imagine that the eventual winner may be more dependent upon the local politics of the district itself and the resurgent fortunes of the left-shifting Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and may offer less of a guide to other races around the country this fall.
Cory Booker Under 24-Hour Guard
Speaking of New Jersey politics, it appears that Newark's young and dynamic mayor-elect, Cory Booker (left, Newarknow.org), now has to have around-the-clock protection because of a credible murder threat by members of the Bloods gang. The New York Times suggests there might be political overtones to the threat given the acrimony of the last two Newark mayoral campaigns. Retiring Newark head Sharpe James, who narrowly defeated Booker four years ago in a close race whose toxicity set new levels even for New Jersey (and which was captured in Marshall Curry's Oscar-nominated documentary, Street Fight), and whose uninspiring deputy, Ron Rice, lost to Booker by a 3-to-1 margin earlier this year, replaced the state-level officers who'd been protecting Booker with Newark policeman, and snippily described the additional request as "unusual." The paper goes on to report that despite the threat, Booker still appeared at a gay pride event with the Essex County executive the other day.
Les Americains Sortent
I seemed to have missed it, but tennis player James Blake (left, elmundodeporte)--his attractiveness, tremendous promise, overall amiability, and continual career near-misses are making him the MaliVai Washington of the new century--who got the furthest of any American male player at this year's French Open, lost 6-2, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (1), 5-7, 6-4 on Sunday to Gael Monfils (below right, Sport24), an exuberant, towering 20-year-old Parisian native. Monfils ended up losing yesterday to Serb Novak Djokovic. While 8th ranked player Blake's year to date includes singles victories at Sydney and Las Vegas, and been a finalist at the ATP Masters Series tournament at Indian Wells, California, 28th ranked Monfils's 2006 record includes the finals at Doha and semifinals at ATP Masters Series in Rome. Blake's lone surviving American counterpart on the women's side, Venus Williams (at right, Reuters), got one stage further before losing to Czech teenager, Nicole Vaidisova, 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-3, in the quarterfinals. Vaidisova told the press that the defending Wimbledon champion was her favorite player when she was younger, and even played with a "Venus Williams" racket (which I'm sure was little consolation to the holder of five major titles). Williams, who has never won the French Open singles title, made 70 unforced errors, allowing Vaisova to storm back into the match, as she did against number 1-ranked female player and 2006 Australian Open singles victor Amélie Mauresmo. Really, it's been the same story over the last few years with Venus Williams, who until her win in 2005 had gone for a long stretch without a major win; she either withdrew from tournaments because of illness or injuries, or played without the fire and sharpness that had led to her two successive Wimbledon and US Open titles in 2000 and 2001. For a brief moment, she and Serena were untouchable, but as their interest in championships has waned, the best of the rising stars have also figured out how to get to them.
Billy Preston and Hilton Ruiz, RIP
Two truly talented musicians passed away today: multiplatform musical artist and Houston native Billy Preston (1946-2006), whose background work with numerous legendary groups, including the Beatles and Stones, as well as his No. 1 hit songs of the 1970s, created an audiotrack for several generations, and Latin jazz virtuoso and Nuyorican Hilton Ruiz (1952-2006). A song from each: Billy Preston with the late Syreeta Wright, singing their 1979 duet from the movie Fast Break, "With You I'm Born Again," and Hilton Ruiz, on his Heroes album (featuring saxophonist David Sánchez), playing "Con Alma."
My book with Christopher Stackhouse, Seismosis, is now out of both our hands and on its way to the presses, and I almost feel like I'm in a gravity-free room when I think about it. It'll actually be a real book (the tiny, limited edition, handset letterpress chapbook version appeared two years ago), beautifully designed and professionally printed, with a foreward and afterward. We expect to see it in mid-to-late June, and those who want to pre-purchase a copy can do so here. Do also check out the 1913 Press's jewel of a journal, which is available on their site, 1913 Press.