By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay
While the media has long been criticized as biased, their political affiliation and ideological polarization has become even more dreadfully obvious in recent years. During election season, pundits, newspapers, and TV networks often choose which candidates they will support long before any official endorsement is made; for several months, that candidate’s propaganda is broadcast under the guise of journalism.
Former Glen Ridge Mayor Carl Bergmanson knows of the media’s bias better than most people. He has spent his entire political career rocking the political boat, often disrupting the inherently corrupt status quo in the face of opposition from the mainstream media.
Bergmanson’s first clash with the political elite occurred in 1990. His hometown had long operated under single-party rule; the Civic Conference Committee controlled the town’s politics, and only their candidates were considered viable. The organization, however, was extremely exclusive and rarely effectively served the public’s needs.
“When I first took on the Civic Conference Committee, they met in secret,” said Bergmanson. “I said to myself: ‘no wonder the city council is not representative, it isn’t a representative system of government!”
Despite an uphill battle, Bergmanson was elected to the borough council as an independent; his victory was unprecedented. In 2003, he made history when he was elected mayor, marking the first time since 1913 a Civic Conference Committee candidate had lost a mayoral election.
Bergmanson, however, soon set his sights beyond the borders of Glen Ridge. By 2008, Governor Jon Corzine had become wildly unpopular: the state was on the brink of a financial crisis, property taxes were rising exponentially, and it seemed that serving the special interests had become Trenton’s top priority.
Bergmanson became the chairman of The Committee to Recall Jon Corzine and was soon among one of the most vocal critics of Governor Corzine.
“It was more than just him doing a bad job as governor,” said Bergmanson. “He broke a bond of trust. He talked about making Constitutional changes we needed to have made. We had a special session of legislature, and he promised if it didn’t work he would hold a constitutional convention…This was a very important issue to me, because we wont solve property tax problems until we solve these constitutional issues. He promised this to me personally when I met with him and he broke that promise.”
The media shunned Bergmanson’s effort to recall Corzine and completely ignored the entire endeavor. Without any coverage, the already difficult task of collecting the required signatures became impossible.
“We would have had to have 400,000 notarized signatures,” said Bergmanson. “It is set up to be impossible.”
By 2009, Governor Corzine was gearing up to seek re-election. Bergmanson, not content to sit idly by and watch Corzine sail to victory, began to consider running for office yet again. During an appearance on NJ101.5FM’s Jim Gearhart Show, Bergmanson announced he would challenge Governor Corzine in the Democratic Primaries because “it needed to be done.”
The media and the Democratic Party made it clear almost instantaneously they would not support this act of insubordination. Bergmanson would have to challenge Corzine’s vast financial resources and political connections. The Democratic elite were so aghast that anyone would challenge their flagship candidate that they tried to squash Bergmanson’s campaign. Bergmanson was not invited to Democratic Party events or conventions, and while Republican candidates Steve Lonegan and Chris Christie squared off in a series of public debates, Corzine never appeared alongside Bergmanson.
“We got so little coverage,” said Bergmanson. “The editor at the Star Ledger actually said point blank that he wouldn’t cover my campaign.”
Amidst a media blackout, and with the entire Democratic machine running against him, Bergmanson still managed to receive nine percent of the vote in the primary.
“I was very happy with that,” said Bergmanson. “We got virtually no coverage, and still we got nine percent. I was very gratified, because I had met with a lot of folks who saw I was talking about making changes that actually would make a positive changes in their lives.”
While Bergmanson has re-entered private life, he still keeps a close eye on politics. He doesn’t rule out running for office again someday, but he knows that as a (very rare) conservative Democrat, the party machine and mainstream media will always operate against him. He does, however, have a warning for the Democratic Party:
“Unless the Democrats put forth a fiscally responsible candidate, we’re going to lose again,” he said. “I don’t think the Democratic machine’s candidate is going to beat Christie. But a good fiscally conservative democrat has a chance!”