Apologies for the ‘Ruth Holt’ reference below, when I meant ‘Rush Holt’. Fixed. Damn autocorrect!
A little while ago, Donna Simon called Andrew Zwicker and conceded. It’s official: Zwicker will become the first Democrat sworn in to represent the current 16th Legislative District.
Right now, Zwicker is in Savannah, Georgia at a conference with APS, the American Physical Society. In Zwicker’s day job, he’s the education chief at Princeton Plasma Physics Lab. I just got off the phone with him; he’s giddy and grateful and currently surrounded by scientists. Already he’s getting congratulated “by a bunch of [fellow] plasma nerds” who “immediately sit down and calculate the percentage difference in the vote totals.” I had to laugh. I used to work for Rush Holt, Zwicker’s political mentor, and I have enormous affection for the kind of people – the physics nerds, as he calls them – Zwicker works with. Anybody who thinks physicists are dry and dull would be in for a rude awakening.
Zwicker says it’s been a long two weeks since election night.. But he’s glad to see the electoral process played out, with every vote counted – a real lesson, he says, in the idea that every vote matters.. “We worked out butts off,” he says. “It wasn’t about gerrymandering, or about big money. We were outspent. It was about our hard work, and our supporters’ hard work.” The Assembly has 4 new Dems on the way – Zwicker, Eric Houghtaling & Downey, Joann (LD11), Bruce Land (LD1).
LD16 was configured to be competitive. Even knowing that, he says, the Republicans were surprised by the strength of the challenge that he and running mate Maureen Vella put up. An effort, he says, that was backed up by 3 years of Democrat Marie Corfield chipping at the Republicans with strong campaigns of her own in 2011, 2012, and 2013. “With all the cynicism out there, the Republicans still thought it was a safe district,” Zwicker says, “And we showed what can happen when you have a very strong message – not just of ideology, but a message of ideas; people will respond.”
Zwicker, now a scientist-lawmaker in the tradition of his former colleague at Princeton Plasma Physics Lab Rush Holt, says he intends to approach his new work in Trenton with evidence-based decision making. And he can’t wait to get started. He will be sworn in on January 12th, and may attend an earlier Assembly session at the invitation of Speaker Prieto.
It’s been a roller-coaster month. On election night, Zwicker thought he lost. And he stood on a chair at Conte’s Pizza in Princeton and conceded before a room of disappointed supporters. Last Saturday, at a party to celebrate his all-but-official victory, Zwicker got back up on the same chair at Conte’s, and told the crowd, “In the words of the great spiritual leader – The Yogi – It ain’t over till it’s over!”
Besides Saturday night at Conte’s, there have been several rewarding moments while Zwicker waited for the election to be finalized. At the NJEA Convention in AC just after the election, many educators sought him out to thank him for speaking up for their work in a Christie-driven atmosphere of teacher-bashing. One woman, he says, came up and hugged him hard, saying, “Thank you. Your victory make me feel like I have a voice in Trenton.”
On election night, when machine votes were tallied, Zwicker came out ahead by a slim – but critical – margin of 29 votes. Then, the Boards of Election in the 4 counties in the district – Mercer, Hunterdon, Somerset and Middlesex – mobilized to count provisional ballots. Zwicker added to his lead in Mercer (his home county), added to it again in Hunterdon (Donna Simon’s home county) and Simon picked up only a handful of provisional votes over Zwicker. The margin was close enough that it was possible Simon would ask for a recount. I think it’s clear the recount would have shown the same result, and I believe Donna Simon saw that. Her concession call was very gracious, Zwicker says.
After spending the early part of this week in Georgia with the science nerds he has so much affection for, Zwicker’s next stop Thursday is to Washington, D.C. where he will step in for Sen. Cory Booker to address about 1,000 high school students at the Princeton Model Congress, organized by Princeton University college students to help educate younger students (many from LD16) about how government works. He plans to talk about his race as an example of how every vote matters, and about how good government requires basing decisions on evidence and not on ideology as some other politicians practice it.
Majority Leader Lou Greenwald’s office called and asked him if he’d be at this week’s NJ League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City. But Zwicker, who will split his work time between PPPL and Trenton come January, was already booked this week at the conference. “I know you get this excuse all the time, but I can’t. I’m going to be at a physics conference all week…”
LD16 is finally represented by a Democrat. It’s been a long time coming. And it’s frickin’ awesome.