Author Archive: Jeff Gardner

News Roundup and Open Thread for Sunday, August 4, 2013

What an absolutely amazing day today was – you’ll have to forgive me for the very late roundup – it was really hard to stay inside today.

Of course, that also meant it was a great day for candidates (like myself) walking door-to-door and attending events, which is good because … the Elections are Coming!

Senate Primary:

Governor Christie

  • Unsurprising revelation of the day from the APP:

    The “Stronger Than The Storm” TV commercials starring Gov. Chris Christie and his family are providing a near $5 million windfall of taxpayer dollars for a politically active public relations agency, more than $2 million higher than what the runner-up firm planned to charge.

    The question remains – just how many more millions of dollars would the governor need to waste, squander or steer toward his friends before people begin to care? #ARCTunnel #RaceToTheTop #AshBritt #STTS

  • Presidential Dreaming?: Another pundit wonders whether Chris Christie would have to quit his governorship to run for Prez.
  • Better yet, how about if we just don’t give him another term? Definitely what Barbara Buono has in mind with her South Jersey Diner tour – meeting and greeting, and [gasp] talking about the issues.

Issues of the Day

  • Medical Marijuana: why is New Jersey having so much trouble implementing their own laws?
  • The Environment: Kudos to Barbara Buono, and the many familiar progressive names with the state’s highest ratings for protecting the environment. (But whoa – how bout some of those low scores?)
  • Marriage Equality: After Gov. Christie squandered still more taxpayer money defending discrimination last week, Garden State Equality and the other Plaintiffs get there say this week – followed by oral arguments next week. Fingers Crossed!

Oh sure – I know I missed plenty. But with minutes to spare before this Sunday news roundup becomes the Monday news roundup, I think I’d better call it a night. But first let me say, I hope your weekend was a great one, and that this coming week will be even better!


Why Milly Silva is a Great Choice for LG

Buono Silva Announce

Barbara Buono‘s selection of SEIU 1199 NJ‘s Milly Silva to run with her for Lieutenant Governor was a bold choice. And as anyone who was in the crowded room for today’s announcement could tell you, an exciting one, with the potential to impact the race more dramatically than some observers might think.

It’s not because Milly is a woman, not because she is Latina, and not because she’s a labor leader. Though, as she pointed out in her speech today, Governor Christie’s record has been particularly abysmal for women, minorities and the working class. And, as this campaign moves forward into the fall, that inconvenient fact is sure to be highlighted. (Heaven knows, it’s also not because of what may be an inconsistent voting history.)

No, it’s because of the kind of leader she has been. Milly Silva has spent her life fighting to lift up those in need, leading the fight for working and middle class families. In a year when a Minimum Wage Referendum is on the ballot, the inclusion on the ticket of such a fierce advocate for workers earning a living wage is extremely powerful.

More importantly is what it says about Barbara Buono. As our Democratic nominee, she no doubt heard from many corners that she just had to choose someone famous or “moderate” or from a particular geographic region, and almost certainly a man.

Instead, she chose someone – a woman – who embodies her own commitment to justice for the middle class and working families, which has been the centerpiece of her campaign. And though Milly Silva may not be a household name statewide, yet, her name is well-known by the thousands of families whose lives have been changed for the better by her leadership.

This pick has the potential to transform many of the labor endorsements Buono has already earned from matter-of-course to now-it-matters. And the resulting energizing of volunteers alone probably contributes more to the ticket than most any LG choice would.

It was a bold choice, and one whose value I believe will become more apparent as the campaign moves forward.

Calling Out Gov. Christie, One Dollar at a Time

Dollar DistrictToday I joined a group of Hawthorne parents and the NJ Working Families Alliance for a press conference at our Borough Hall. We came out because Hawthorne is one of the 40 “Dollar Districts” that Governor Christie claims are getting a bump in state aid this year when he is in fact giving them a single dollar increase.

If you’re like me, you’ve been inundated with campaign commercials from the governor touting this year’s budget as the “most education funding ever.” That’s about as ridiculous as claiming that one additional dollar is an increase. To commemorate Christie’s chutzpah, we brought a giant one dollar bill with the governor’s face on it. Christie can claim to be a friend to public education in his campaign commercials and in his town halls, but New Jersey parents have his number. Literally.

The truth is that this governor has a terrible record on public education, and every parent and property tax payer has suffered the consequences. Hawthorne, like every other municipality in New Jersey, was cut to the bone in 2010 and has been underfunded every year since. In fact, it’s getting only half of the aid it’s entitled to under the law. Each school district dealt with their cuts a different way. Some districts laid off teachers and staff, others imposed heavy fees, and almost all raised property taxes.

Parents at the event talked about the impact of the cuts on their child’s education, whether it was larger class sizes or a loss of special education support. Others spoke about property tax increases. Let’s face it: school aid is essentially direct property tax relief for middle-class families. And it’s no surprise that between Christie’s cuts to school aid and the Homestead Rebate program the property tax burden for middle-class families is up 20%.

The worst part of Christie’s continued underfunding of education is that it’s so unnecessary. The money is there. For the last three years Governor Christie has underfunded our schools while giving tax breaks to the richest 1% and the state’s most profitable corporations. If Prudential, Panasonic and Pearson Education can get their new office towers bankrolled by the state, why can’t Hawthorne get the $1.8 million it’s entitled to under the law?

In less than a month the legislature is going to pass a budget. They can choose to either accept Christie’s numbers or they can fight for a meaningful increase in aid for Hawthorne and every other district in the state. Here’s hoping they make the right choice.  

GOP Mayor Endorses Buono for Governor

Forget about those other endorsements (but thank you), the biggest endorsement news by far today is the endorsement of Barbara Buono for Governor by Republican Mayor Nick Poliseno. It’s really stunning news when you think about it.

Unlike the much heralded (ballyhoo’d?) endorsements by some democratic officials of an incumbent governor who is up big in the polls, controls the purse strings to Sandy relief money, and is well-known to take names, this endorsement took guts. For a Republican to buck his own party this year, and speak the truth about Chris Christie’s woeful record on jobs, property taxes, and the economy in general, it should tell you just how bad that record is.

Accepting the endorsement at a ceremony today alongside Poliseno, Rush Holt, Linda Greenstein, and other supporters, Buono may have captured it best when she said, “People of New Jersey do not see blue and red. But because of this governor, they are seeing a lot less green.”

That focus on economic issues will be key in this year’s race. One day at a time, one endorsement at a time. Keep Choppin’ Senator!

What If There Were No Video?

I attended today’s Town Hall Meeting at Rutgers in Newark, hosted by President Robert Barchi, who opened his remarks by reminding the audience that the purpose of the meeting was to focus on the Strategic Plan for moving Rutgers toward a world class future. But, the phalanx of reporters and television crews in attendance suggested that there might just be some lingering interest in the ongoing basketball scandal that came to light last week.

After Barchi opened with a grand vision of shared values, and ambitious leadership, an audience member asked about Barchi’s involvement in the basketball story, and Barchi retreated behind the defense of “I didn’t see the video til last week, and once I did, I took appropriate action.” That explanation, which has blunted some of the criticism, and at least to date may be what has saved his job, really bothered me. Because there’s almost never a video of bad behavior. And, what if there had been no video this time?

So, I went to the mic, and asked what seemed to me simple questions:

Assuming you did not see the video until last week, when I and the rest of America first saw it, were you at least aware last year that an employee of this University had on multiple occasions, over an extended period, physically assaulted multiple students while yelling misogynistic and homophobic slurs at them?

And if so, why didn’t you take the appropriate action then? And if not, who did? And either way, do you think in the face of the University’s inaction before the video became public, you still have the ability to lead this great institution into the world class future we’re discussing today?

His answers, to put it mildly, were less than world class. He didn’t admit or deny what he knew, he didn’t identify who knew what or when, and to the question of whether he still has the ability to lead – he deferred to the judgment of the Rutgers Board at whose pleasure he serves.

And, I come back to my office to learn that Governor Christie is proclaiming – without the benefit of any independent investigation – that Barchi did not commit a fireable offense, because he had not seen the video. I would say this to President Barchi, and to the Governor: leadership doesn’t always come with a videotape. Sometimes the facts are enough. And if Barchi, or others in leadership (after all, someone overruled Tim Pernetti’s recommendation to fire the Coach) had the facts described above – video or not – there was only one appropriate action to take. The one not taken until the video surfaced.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Lost in the fine print, below the screaming headline about the historic super-amazingness of our Governor in today’s Quinnipiac Poll, is a simple comparison with last week’s Monmouth Poll.

Obviously, it would be hard to call the current state of the race “good news” for Democrats. I get that. There’s a lot of ground to make up.

But, Buono’s being down 37 points today is 5 points better than last week’s 42. And, among women voters, she’s 15 points closer than last week’s poll. Whether that’s baby steps, real progress or just a rounding error remains to be seen. What I do know is: it’s headed in the right direction.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Veto Equality

If you’re on Facebook, you’re probably being inundated with all things Papal this morning. And, if you follow news of Facebook, you’re probably aware that Mark Zuckerberg is hosting a fundraiser for Governor Christie this week in California.

Both Zuckerberg and Facebook have made major strides in the past few years, turning the world’s largest social network into a more open and inclusive place for the LGBT community. But guess what? Friends Don’t Let Friends Veto Equality. That’s why, at 1p today, @GSEquality, @BlueJersey, @DFAaction and allies and friends are kicking off a Twitter Bomb using the Twitter hashtag #UnfriendChristie to let Mark Zuckerberg know that’s not how friends treat each other.

That’s right, the young, hip, tech-savvy billionaire – who famously, publicly married his wife just last year – is raising money for our anti-equality and anti-(you fill in the blank) governor at his Silicon Valley home on Wednesday.

So, how would you like to take a break from news about the Pope to let the Facebook founder know how you feel about his raising money this week for the man who is single-handedly blocking New Jersey from granting me and thousands of others the same freedom to marry he enjoys? The same governor about whose record no progressive – in New Jersey or California should remain silent.

Earlier this month when the news first broke – there was some great pushback against Zuckerberg on Twitter (where #UnfriendChristie briefly trended), on Facebook (where Garden State Equality received historic traffic), in the traditional media (this sweet Wall St. Journal article, and among politicians, with lots of buzz on the Chamber Train Trip. But this week, with the event scheduled for Wednesday, should be even bigger.

And there will be more actions to come all week, leading up to this Saturday’s anniversary of Governor Christie’s veto of marriage equality. But, at 1p today, I hope you’ll join @BlueJersey and friends in a Twitter Bomb using the hashtag #UnfriendChristie to let Mark Zuckerberg know: Friends Don’t Let Friends Veto Equality.

Still a Big NO on Marriage Referendum

In February of this year, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora testified in support of New Jersey’s marriage equality bill, and passionately against the idea of conducting a referendum instead. He noted our nation’s proud history of “safeguarding against popular will over the rights of minorities,” and pointing to the acrimony, name-calling and divisive tone that permeated Trenton that week in the debate over the issue, Gusciora put it to his colleagues this way:

“imagine what will happen during a ballot question of this type. There will be more divisiveness in this state, more acrimony, and it will be a race to see who could shout the loudest.”

This month, Gusciora switched gears, and is now championing Gov. Christie’s marriage referendum proposal. Others have joined him. The sole reason anyone seems to be able to point to for reconsidering is the outcomes on ballot questions around the country in November. But, those outcomes are neither instructive nor predictive of what would happen in NJ in 2013. More importantly, unless the opposition to a referendum back in February was nothing more than a bunch of excuses for fear of losing, none of the real reasons for opposing a referendum in NJ has actually changed.

For me (and thankfully, for the Democratic leadership in the Senate and Assembly), it’s still a non-starter.

Counting Votes is Cool

I don’t know, maybe it was the 2000 Presidential race. But, I LOVE when we actually count the votes cast in an election before declaring a winner. Now, we are the party of arithmetic after all, so I’m not saying we couldn’t declare Senator Menendez or others who won by landslides (or at least handily) the winners on election night, even though technically all the votes can’t have been counted. But, in races all over the country that were too close to call, there were premature declarations of victory which are now coming under closer scrutiny. Which is to say, they’re actually counting the votes – like all the cool kids do.

A great example is the U.S. Senate candidate from Arizona, Richard Carmona, who conceded his race on Election night, and now is learning how cool it is to count votes. He may not win in the end, but he might! So, what was he doing conceding?

Similarly, here in NJ, early reports of the end of the LD-16 race were greatly exaggerated, with multiple media outlets declaring Donna Simon the winner on election night. (Simon even gave a victory speech, before thousands of Sandy-displaced voters even had their votes counted.) But, significantly, Marie Corfield did not concede. And good for her! She’s currently behind by just 700 votes out of almost 10,000 still to be counted. That’s way too close to call.

It’s always true – especially this year, with the special arrangements for voting made in light of hurricane Sandy – that the outcome of a close race on election night could change when mail-in ballots and provisional ballots are counted. And my fingers are crossed that’s true this year for Marie. But, win or lose – and sure, she may still come up short in the end – I applaud her for respecting LD-16 voters enough to be guided by their choice, and waiting until the votes are counted to know what that is. To me, that’s cool.

The Unsung Candidates

So, with redistricting behind us, we’re headed toward Election Day with a 6-6 House delegation of incumbents seeking reelection. That means we have 6 chances to increase the democratic majority in our delegation. Sure, some of these chances are better than others. But Presidential years are funny – you might remember we picked up a seat in 2008.

With polls showing both President Obama and Senator Menendez potentially posting gaudy margins of victory here, there should be cause for optimism. And, more importantly, there is good reason to support our democratic congressional challengers in every District. (You remember the 50-State-Strategy, don’t you?)

You’ll hear from others (and I’ll write separately) about the two challengers given the best chance to win this year – NJ-3’s Shelley Adler and NJ-7’s Upendra Chivukula. And, wow, I hope they do!

But, today, I’d like to give a quick shout out to the four other democratic candidates who are doing their part to bring the 50-state-strategy to life. When they campaign against their opponents, they keep them and their money in-district, and by extension, help democratic candidates everywhere. Win or lose, they deserve some appreciation (and some help):

In NJ-2: Cassandra Shober faces the same headwinds other challengers here have faced: an incumbent with an overrated record on labor, and a conventional wisdom that a democrat can’t win. But, the reality is that this is a district democrats can win and Obama may win, and hardly the worst place to be running for Congress in a Presidential year. Add in that Cassandra has a great background and a core of hardworking grassroots supporters, and who knows – surprises can happen.

In NJ-4: Brian Froelich has perhaps the toughest assignment, going against an incumbent whose radical anti-choice stance never seems to dent his personal popularity. But, could this year’s odd national focus on abortion rights finally shine the spotlight on a Congressman whose positions are more in line with Akin and Mourdock than NJ suburban voters? When the incumbent was first elected 32 years ago, he was given little chance to win. Surprises have happened.

In NJ-5: Adam Gussen has gotten beaten up here and elsewhere for raising too little money to compete against Scott Garrett. And, some of that is deserved. But, I know Adam is campaigning hard, he’s got a compelling story to tell about himself, and about the winnability of this race. And, let’s face it, someone like Garrett deserves to be challenged as fiercely as possible. I really want a surprise to happen.

In NJ-11: John Arvanites has waged a surprisingly aggressive campaign in a district that was radically redrawn as a result of redistricting. The Morris County Democrats who’ve suffered mostly alone under the generations of the incumbent and his family holding this seat have welcomed the addition of large swaths of Essex and Passaic County to help flip this one. Still the underdog, the final outcome of this race may be the hardest to predict. Supporters hope a surprise does happen.

And that’s the rub – New Jersey’s Congressional elections have become extraordinarily predictable. We need to create some surprises.