Mr. Smithereen Goes To Washington: Pat DiNizio Aims For Senate

Power-pop singer running for New Jersey seat on Reform Party ticket.

Smithereens frontman Pat DiNizio is hopeful about what his campaign for a New Jersey seat in the U.S. Senate will accomplish.

“Do I think I can win? Yes. But if I can even get more people to vote, or even register, then I’ve done a good thing,” said the 44-year-old singer, whose power-pop band is known for such hits as “Blood and Roses,” “A Girl Like You” (RealAudio excerpt) and “Too Much Passion.”

“We’re going to call the campaign ‘Mr. Smithereen Goes to Washington,’ after the great Frank Capra movie,” said DiNizio, referring to the 1939 film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” “I cannot be bought off. It’s time to ruffle some feathers.”

After considering an independent bid to replace the retiring Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg, DiNizio, who grew up in Plainfield, N.J., and still lives in Scotch Plains, decided last year to run on the Reform Party ticket.

“I like where they are coming from, and yes, that includes Mr. Ventura,” he said, referring to Minnesota Gov. Jesse “The Body” Ventura, a former pro wrestler.

DiNizio has embraced the party’s agenda, especially the focus on campaign finance, but he is holding out on specifically addressing most issues until after the June 6 primary.

New Jersey Reform Party Chairman Ira Goodman said he likes having DiNizio on this ticket. “He is really one of us. He’s from the state and has maintained a large presence here. People trust him.”

DiNizio said, “I think young voters will be able to relate to me because I play in a rock band.”

To talk with people in an up-close setting, DiNizio is launching a rock ‘n’ roll version of John McCain’s Straight Talk Express, in the form of a nationwide “living-room tour” of solo concerts in fans’ homes or small local venues.

“I put this out on the Web, and in a week I sold 50 shows,” DiNizio said, referring to his Psycholaborations Web site (www.psycholaborations.com), where, in addition to finding information about his music and campaign, fans can co-write a tune with DiNizio. “[This tour] is so much fun, because, just like my campaign it’s totally a slap in the face of business as usual. I’ll be playing in a firehouse, a bowling alley and quite a few living rooms.”

The fans who have booked the tour must sell 100 tickets at $25 a pop. For their effort, they’ll receive a 20 percent commission.

But DiNizio’s shows are more about music than stumping.

“[My campaign and my music are] two totally different things. When the band plays in Richmond tomorrow night, I won’t even bring it up.”

And, conversely, DiNizio insists his campaign is not a publicity stunt to draw attention to his music.

“I already know what it’s like to be onstage in front of 10,000 people who want to tear your clothes off,” he said. “I’ve been at that point a few times. I’ve already known power. I’ve already been rich. It’s not about any of that stuff.”

To increase his Senate chances, DiNizio has hired political consultant John Sitilides of the Western Policy Group in Washington, D.C. Sitilides served as former New York Sen. Al D’Amato’s campaign manager and speech writer. DiNizio also has hired veteran Ohio pollster Vic Rubenstein as campaign manager.

Former Gov. Jim Florio and financier Jon Corzine will be competition for the Smithereen from the Democrat side, and four Republicans have declared their candidacies.

“He will have a tough job, but it should be fun. We will see his real colors when he gets specific,” said Philippe Rosse, an analyst from the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

On Tuesday, DiNizio will perform at the Gemini Lounge in Long Branch, N.J., followed by a show at the Harvest Moon in New Brunswick two days later.