Joe Signorello III, the mayor of Roselle Park, surprised pundits and the public in February when he announced his decision to challenge Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Menendez in the 2024 Democratic primary.
Signorello says his choice to challenge a powerful—though scandal-mired—opponent baffled observers, but he is up for the challenge.
Your parents were conservative, but you consider yourself liberal. How did that happen?
My dad’s a registered Democrat now, but I would say they were kind of always Mitt Romney Republicans. I don’t know how people grow up in a Catholic Church and end up becoming conservative. A lot of the reasons why I am liberal is because I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church, and they taught us to take care of the poor.
Your brother died in an ATV accident when he was 10 and you were 12. What impact did that have on you, and how has that tragedy influenced your political career?
That was kind of my first understanding of how politicians and civic action can help and make a bad thing turn into a positive. When my brother passed, the mayor and council at the time, along with my mom and dad, they really got into making Anthony Signorello Youth Center, which helps kids to this day in his honor. It also really taught me to not take anything for granted. Life is short. If you’re going to take big political risks, then take big political risks.
What makes you qualified for statewide office?
I grew up in New Jersey in a middle-class family, raised on public schools. But I’ve also, through work, spent half of my adult life in Europe, starting and building tech companies. I think that gives me a good purview of not only what works here in New Jersey, but what works around the world.
I’ve seen your candidacy described as “bonkers” and a “long shot.” What makes you think you have a chance?
People thought John Fetterman [of Pennsylvania] was bonkers, too. People really want a fresh face. The sad reality is there’s a core protest vote out there because people are sick of Senator Menendez. Six years ago, Lisa McCormick got almost 40 percent of the vote and spent, like, $5,000 on her campaign.
Why do you feel Menendez should lose his seat?
It’s egregious that he’s under his third federal investigation, and we’ve had senators step down for less than that. It’s also egregious that his son is a current sitting congressman and basically saw no competition. There’s plenty of people out there that are qualified to lead the state. This isn’t the empire of Menendez.
You called him “an embarrassment” to New Jersey and voters in your campaign launch.
I still think both are true…. I love our state, and I think we’re smart and cool and forward thinking, and I’m really sick of having this baggage and his style of politics.
Menendez hasn’t taken kindly to challengers in the past. Do you worry about hurting your chances of a long political career if you lose this underdog race?
I’ve had a fun four years as mayor, and I just got reelected, so I’m gonna have another four years as mayor and I’m going to do a lot in those four years. If that’s where my political career ends, by trying to do the right thing, then so be it. If you’re not speaking out against the problem, you’re part of the problem.
Have any prominent Democrats in or out of New Jersey offered support for your campaign?
No… [laughs]. I don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon. This is going to be much more of a grassroots collective.
Is there a breaking point for you, whether it be financially or polling, where you would need to drop out?
I think the only thing that would change my mind would be if Bob Menendez actually stepped down. But also—and let me be super clear—I’m not just doing this to be anti-Menendez. I’m doing this because I can make a case that I’m actually a better fit than potential would-be competitors in this state.
Will you support whoever wins the Democratic primary for your race?
Yes. As much as I have a distaste for some of the Democrats… our country is facing, in my view, an existential threat. There’s only one normal party now.
The Republicans have totally gone beyond the pale. So as much as I have ethical issues with Senator Menendez in certain cases, I’m sure he’ll uphold things like election integrity, which the Republicans just want to end up tearing down.
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