New Jersey Democratic state Sen. Vin Gopal hosted a get-together Monday evening with far-right radio personality Bill Spadea and others in Asbury Park, a meeting between unlikely alliances that has raised eyebrows in Monmouth County political circles.
The event, at R BAR in Asbury Park, was an informal gathering with people across political lines, something Gopal (D-Monmouth) said he has done on numerous occasions.
"I invite people from different political mindsets, and it's always healthy for democracy when people are able to have a drink and chat about different issues. That's what we did last night," Gopal said in an interview Tuesday morning, adding that state Sen. Bob Singer (R-Ocean) was also there along with 30 or 40 other guests, mostly police chiefs and veterans.
Spadea is a Marine Corps veteran.
"Last night was law enforcement and veteran-themed," Gopal said.
This was the second time in recent months that Gopal, a top target of Republicans in this year's state legislative elections, has had a social call with a Republican rival of Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden, the county GOP chair.
In the fall, Gopal, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and Murphy Chief of Staff George Helmy met at the Red Bank Diner with Ocean County GOP Chair George Gilmore, Gopal confirmed. Gilmore is also a political antagonist of Golden's.
"George had reached out individually to both the governor and I about wanting to talk about shoreline issues that impact both Ocean and Monmouth counties," Gopal said. "He wanted to talk about beach replenishment funding, issues with cabanas and DEP and other general funding issues. He also raised school funding."
The two meetings have been whispered about in Monmouth County political circles and add a layer of intrigue to New Jersey's political culture, in which backroom deals and convenient, if strange, alliances exist. One person who happened upon the Monday's event posted about it on Twitter under a pseudonym. Reached by phone, that person said he heard guests describe it as a fundraiser.
Gopal said that wasn't the case.
Gopal and Spadea are not strangers. In a November post on New Jersey 101.5's website, Spadea, who hosts the radio station's morning drive time show, described Gopal as a "friend." By contrast, Spadea on Twitter called Golden "among the worst bullies in office today."
"Bill Spadea and I agree on very little when it comes to big political issues, but it doesn't mean we can't talk and have a relationship and find common ground," Gopal said.
In addition to his work at New Jersey 101.5, Spadea, a realtor by trade, is a former Republican congressional candidate who took a hard right turn several years ago and became a loyalist to former President Donald Trump. He's spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and vaccines, and has repeated pro-Russia talking points after its invasion of Ukraine. Spadea also emceed a December event hosted by the New York Young Republicans whose attendees included white nationalists. At that same event, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said that if Steve Bannon, another Trump loyalist, had planned the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, "we would have won, not to mention we would've been armed."
The 37-year-old Gopal, who won reelection in 2021 despite his two Assembly district mates losing, is a mainstream Democrat seen by some as a rising star in the party, and who is sometimes mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2025, when Murphy's second term ends. Although considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators, Republicans have not yet settled on a candidate to challenge him in November.
Spadea is also touring the state and suggesting that he plans to run for governor. During the past couple of years, he has been linked to Gilmore, who helped raise money for Spadea's preferred 2021 Republican gubernatorial candidate, Phil Rizzo.
Gilmore recently won back the Ocean County Republican chairmanship after two years in the political wilderness following three felony tax convictions. After being pardoned by former Trump in 2021, Gilmore has been working to reassert his power.
Gilmore said in a text message that he did not attend Gopal's event with Spadea and did not play a part in organizing it.
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