Comedian and New Jersey icon Joe Piscopo just smiled as he ironed over a momentary wrinkle while getting his press credentials on Wednesday for the third night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention. The descendant of Italian immigrants who built their American dream in Newark, he knew just what to say to these people who tried to block him.
"I'm an independent, and my station wasn't exactly interested in covering this convention," said Piscopo, who hosts a daily morning radio show on AM 970 in New York, a station whose outlook tilts to the right side of the political spectrum. "But being a Jersey guy, you gotta go to Philly. I've got a responsibility to tell the story of the great American democratic process at work."
Newark runs deep in Piscopo's blood. His mother grew up on East Kinney Street in the Ironbound, his father on Mount Prospect Avenue in the North Ward. The family's hopes and fortunes rose and were realized as they traveled down Bloomfield Avenue, Newark's artery radiating out from the bricks to the trees.
After cleaning up the Democratic Convention, Joe Piscopo is apparently building the Pope a new gym at the Vatican.
Piscopo has been pitching a show about Bloomfield Avenue to television executives for years, with no intention of giving up. He said that he moved away from the Democratic Party because he feels that is has been giving up on America's cities.
"I'm a Kennedy Democrat, and I'm a Reagan Democrat, I believe in civil rights, and I believe in helping those less fortunate. I'm not a Hillary Clinton hater, but the Democrats need a more pragmatic approach," said Piscopo, injecting some realism into the idealism that often accompanies a party presidential nomination. "Newark can be helped, Paterson can he helped, Camden can be helped. It's time to step up."
A spokesperson for the Boys & Girls Clubs in New Jersey, Piscopo has worked with children who suffer from a litany of despair: incarceration, drug addiction, absentee parents. But Piscopo has also seen kids from Newark and other New Jersey cities succeed. And with help, he believes he will see more struggling kids do the same.
"It's our responsibility to help them," Piscopo said. "That's why I was a Democrat for all these years, and that help needs to happen again. I'm going to sound like Bernie Sanders now, but here it is: the politicians want to enable these problems because it keeps them in power. Don't get me started. And if the Republicans really want win, they shouldn't forget the inner cities, either."
Piscopo suggested ways to jump start Newark's economic growth and civic revival.
"I agree with [Newark Mayor] Ras Baraka that what Newark should get out of this convention is jobs," he said. "Bring jobs to the North Ward. Bring jobs to the Ironbound. Bring jobs to the Central Ward. Baraka and Newark are clearly going to need the funds to turn this around. Celebrities should encourage corporations to not give in to greed and keep jobs from going overseas. They should create jobs and build communities in Newark, in Camden, in Paterson, in Elizabeth, and in Jersey City."
When he was part of the cast of Saturday Night Live, Piscopo worked closely with fellow comic star Eddie Murphy. He doesn't really know Murphy's political bent, but he related what Murphy said after his friend was summoned by the President to the White House.
"Barack Obama begged Eddie to get back out on stage and get back on the road," Piscopo said. "I love Eddie. He's my brother. And Obama loves him."
When he was on SNL, Piscopo played a role in which he embodied Jersey icon Frank Sinatra. In the wee small hours of convention parties tonight, Piscopo plans to use his Jersey attitude to the best effect. Again, he knows just what to say to these people.
"Newark is the story of America," Piscopo said. "We've got to keep Newark alive."