Joseph Rudy Rullo – actor, landscape company owner and now gubernatorial candidate from Ocean County – said he was among the first in his Republican party to support Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency.
So it might not be a surprise that he’s proposed turning New Jersey’s political system on its head, calling out rivals in his party and the Democratic party, in this process.
Ocean County Republicans, next week, will meet to determine which candidate wins its endorsement. It’s a powerful endorsement at that, with many political pollsters having conceded that Chris Christie may not have become governor without his support from the GOP stronghold. The party organization is also led by attorney George Gilmore, arguably the most influential GOP kingmaker in the state. Last week, he addressed his fellow Republicans at a candidates’ forum.
Rullo, 47, told Shorebeat his main primary rival is Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who he called a “turncoat” for failing to veto a gas tax hike while serving as acting governor, and switching her support to Trump late in the presidential campaign. Guadagno, however, has already won the endorsement of the Brick Republican organization, the second-largest in the county.
“Kim talks about being in Ocean County, but I’ve been in Ocean County the whole time,” Rullo said during a recent interview. “I did talk to people from Brick who don’t agree with the endorsement. It happens for political gain and it is what it is. I don’t cry about it, because there’s nothing you can do. I stood by Ocean County after Sandy while Kim was silent and Christie abandoned us when he went to run for president.”
Rullo is, by and large, waging a guerrilla campaign. He’s filmed YouTube videos in front of gas station speaking against the 23 cent per gallon fuel tax increase that passed this summer. He’s amassed a number of supporters who follow his nonstop social media pages, and he’s channeled Trump in touting himself as an outsider who has never held political office.
The battle with Guadagno, he said, does not mean he’s ready to pick fights with those in his own party. After a failed primary bid for U.S. Senate against Joseph Kyrillos in 2012, Rullo campaigned for his former rival. He also supported Steve Lonegan in the 2014 congressional primary, but ultimately said he became one of the biggest supporters of Rep. Tom MacArthur, who was victorious in both the primary and general elections.
Rullo, who appeared last year as a cast member in the HBO series “Vinyl,” says he wants to become governor to reverse New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes.
His first action, he said, would be to use the “slush fund” of service fees as a reinvestment in the state’s ailing pension fund.
“Pension fees went from $125 million to $700 million under Christie. It’s slush fund,” he said. “And if you investigate and see, you’ll find they donate to both sides. This is because of Phil Murphy and his bond scheming.”
Murphy, who is waging his own primary battle for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, is a former Goldman Sachs executive.
Rullo would also follow Christie’s lead in proposed school funding reform. Under the current formula, about 60 percent of state aid flows to 31 mainly-urban districts, while more than 500 others compete for the rest. But Rullo said that number would be reduced under his plan to unite each county under a single schools superintendent and business administrator.
“Consolidate spending for all schools’ purchasing power,” said Rullo. “Why aren’t we dong that with our schools? It is such a smart move.”
Rullo also said he would eliminate the controversial PARCC test, which he claims costs $40 million to administer. He would eliminate the Transportation Trust Fund, which he calls a “blank check” to borrow money without voter approval.
As for the school funding formula, Rullo said he would work with Sen. Mike Doherty, a North Jersey conservative who proposed remaking the funding formula before Christie proposed his “fairness formula” last year. Under Doherty’s plan, school aid would be generally equalized, but special needs districts would still retain extra funding. Still, he said, those 31 districts, the former “Abbott” districts, would be “held accountable” for their spending.
“New Jerseyans are infuriated and they’re aggravated,” said Rullo. “I’m going to go in as a mandate. If I come in as an underdog and I win – and I know I can beat Murphy – they’re going to be scared.”
As for Murphy: “Murphy proposed a bank owned by New Jersey, and I called him a communist,” said Rullo, who isnot afraid to trade barbs with rivals. He is proud of his early support for Trump, who also has gained a reputation for blunt statements. He also said he will follow Trump’s lead on immigration issues, ensuring New Jersey does not become a so-called “sanctuary” state.
“I make a payroll, and I have liability insurance. There are months I’m just paying for the legalities to stay in business,” Rullo said, excoriating those in the landscaping industry that avoid taxes. “I’ve been almost pushed out of my industry because of illegal immigration.While Donald Trump is president of the United States, illegal immigrants will not get free health care while our veterans do not.”
Rullo also pledged to veto “every” tax hike that comes his way, and eliminate the state income tax for veterans.
His approach, he said, will differ from Christie’s when it comes to public employees, a group which Christie has often criticized for receiving health care packages with contributions he considers too small. A former volunteer firefighter, he said he respects public servants.
“When he called them ‘pigs,’ I came out against that, and I’ve been sticking up for teachers the last eight years, too,” he said.
As for another entertainer joining the campaign – former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Joe Piscopo has hinted at running – “He has the line of shit to be a politician, I’ll give him that,” said Rullo. “But it’s disingenuous if he’s just doing this to just get some new name recognition.”
He saved his most candid remarks for Murphy: “If Murphy gets in, you’re going to miss Chris Christie.”
Though not on the same economic level, Rullo said he sees Trump in himself.
“I saw Donald Trump, and I knew – even though he’s rich, I’m poor – he was getting under the skin of the establishment by saying the things he wanted to say.”