New Jersey rarely sees seriously contested primaries for the state legislature. The June 5th Democratic primaries in Essex and Hudson counties, in which Garden State Equality presents its endorsements below, are the exception.
Some explanation is in order on this odd political year in Essex and Hudson. Several legislative candidates long allied with one another — candidates who previously ran together on the same column on the ballot — are running against each other in different columns. The new alliances emanate from behind-the-scenes political wars that have little to do with issues, and much to do with turf and perceived slights. The alliances are asking organizations like Garden State Equality to endorse their entire columns or not at all.
We at Garden State Equality reject that approach, and so should you. We endorse the candidates best on our issues, regardless of column. Imagine that.
Garden State Equality’s endorsements are based on the records of, and interviews with, the candidates.
Some of our endorsed candidates are running on the local party-endorsed column. Some of our endorsed candidates are not running on the local party-endorsed column. If you are a Democratic voter in Essex or Hudson, or anywhere else in New Jersey for that matter, you are always free to vote for candidates across columns.
All of Garden State Equality’s endorsed candidates meet the following criteria: (a) They would vote for marriage equality. (b) They would vote for strengthening the state’s hate crimes law, including adding hate crimes based on a victim’s gender identity or expression. (c) They would vote for a comprehensive syringe exchange program that will save the lives of many people with HIV/AIDS. (d) If the candidate currently serves in the legislature, he or she must have voted “yes” on the civil unions law — candidates who abstained or voted no would certainly not vote for marriage equality. (e) If the candidate currently serves in the legislature, he or she must have voted “yes” on the transgender equality law.
We remind you that in New Jersey, each legislative district is represented by one state Senator and two Assembly members. Thus you can vote for one Senate candidate and one or two candidates for Assembly.
Note that if you live in District 27 in Essex, encompassing part of Newark and all of Caldwell, Essex Fells, Fairfield, Livingston, Maplewood, North Caldwell, Orange, Roseland, South Orange, West Caldwell and West Orange, the incumbents face no primary on June 5th. They are Senator Dick Codey, Assemblyman John McKeon and Assemblyman Mims Hackett, all splendid champions of equality whom we strongly support for reelection in November.
DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY ENDORSEMENTS
District 28, Essex (Part of Newark, all of Belleville, Bloomfield and Irvington): Cleopatra Tucker for Assembly.
For the Assembly, Garden State Equality endorses Cleopatra Tucker. She runs the Donald K. Tucker Centre in Newark, a comprehensive community center for both children and senior citizens that has done so much to lift up so many throughout the city. The Centre is named after Cleo’s husband, the late Assemblyman Donald K. Tucker. Cleo is an impressive grassroots activist in her own right who has the support of our allies, Mayor Cory Booker and city councilwoman Dana Rone.
Garden State Equality stops just short of an endorsement of, but confers “preferred candidate” status on, Bilal Beasley for state Senate and Ralph Caputo for Assembly. They said they personally support marriage equality but have not made up their minds on legislation yet. This makes them preferable to the incumbents, particularly Senator Ron Rice, who abstained on civil unions and is the state legislature’s leading opponent of syringe exchange.
District 29, Essex/Union (Part of Newark, all of Hillside): Teresa Ruiz for state Senate. Wilfredo Caraballo for Assembly. L. Grace Spencer for Assembly.
Garden State Equality’s focus in this district is the reelection of Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo. As Speaker Pro Tem and as a professor of constitutional law at Seton Hall, Fred is an intellectual powerhouse who ranks among the most effective civil rights champions anywhere in America. With passion, soaring oratory and a grasp of public policy second to very few, Fred has been a quarterback on a wide range of pro-LGBTI legislation. He guided the civil unions law to passage while making clear that the law is not equality — and that the fight for real marriage equality must be won soon. He and his staff work in close partnership with Garden State Equality. No matter where in New Jersey you may live, if you have to donate your time or money to just one candidate this primary season, please consider Fred. Checks are payable to “Election Fund of Wilfredo Caraballo” and should be mailed to Caraballo for Assembly, 562 Broadway, Newark, NJ 07104. Fred’s campaign office number is (973) 485-8701. New Jersey election law requires that for donations of $300.01 and above, you provide your occupation, employer and employer’s address.
Garden State Equality debated whether to endorse Fred alone, or to also endorse one other Assembly candidate for the two Assembly seats. In a close call, we endorse L. Grace Spencer for the other Assembly seat, an attorney who has worked with members of the LGBTI community and has an impressive grasp of the issues. The third candidate running for the two Assembly seats is Albert Coutinho. Though he would make a fine Assembly member, Coutinho described himself as close, but not there yet, on marriage equality. We believe he is persuadable, but Caraballo and Spencer are there already.
Garden State Equality endorses Teresa Ruiz for state Senate, running unopposed in the primary. Ruiz, a top aide to County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, wowed us when interviewed her. She is formidably direct, progressive and off-the-charts charismatic. She spoke movingly of the harm inflicted on her LGBTI friends who cannot marry. Her experience working for the County Executive, himself a staunch ally of the LGBTI community and an absolute pleasure to work with, has been invaluable. Ruiz will be a superstar in Trenton.
District 31, Hudson (Part of Jersey City, all of Bayonne): Sandra Cunningham for state Senate. Nicholas Chiaravalloti for Assembly. L. Harvey Smith for Assembly.
Garden State Equality’s focus in this district is the election of Nicholas Chiaravalloti to the Assembly. We leaders of the LGBTI community and other progressive communities know Nicholas well through his years of service as U.S. Senator Bob Menendez’s state director. Beyond being a smart, hardworking ally of the LGBTI community and a supporter of every LGBTI issue, Nicholas is everything Hudson County needs. He is an accessible, progressive reformer who articulates a compelling vision of a more accountable, open government. He would be a breath of fresh air in Trenton.
For the other Assembly seat, Garden State Equality endorses L. Harvey Smith. As a state Senator in 2003, Smith declined to vote on the narrow domestic partnership bill whose achievement was to gave same-sex partners the right to visit one another in the hospital. Today, Smith says he was wrong. “I’ve come a long way,” he says, “and I believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry like everyone else.” Voters should reward that kind of honesty and growth.
Garden State Equality endorses Sandra Bolden Cunningham for the state Senate. Well-known to voters as the widow of former state Senator and Jersey City Mayor Glenn Cunningham, Sandy has a rich history of her own progressive activism and has worked closely with the LGBTI community. She is an extremely articulate voice for justice. We support her over Lou Manzo, currently an Assembly member, in a race where both candidates support marriage equality but where she is more passionate about the issue. Manzo said he would not be a leader on the issue. In a district with one of the largest LGBTI communities in the state, that’s not good enough.
District 32, Hudson (Part of Jersey City, all of Harrison, Secaucus, Kearny and North Bergen): Joan Quigley for Assembly. Vince Prieto for Assembly.
Garden State Equality endorses Joan Quigley for reelection to the Assembly, where she is Majority Conference Leader, the third highest ranking member of the chamber. Quigley has been a leader on every LGBTI issue over the years. She has soared even further in our eyes as she has taken on the rabidly anti-LGBTI author Ann Coulter in the media.
Garden State Equality also endorses Assemblyman Vince Prieto, Deputy Majority Whip and another progressive who supports marriage equality.
Senator Nicholas Sacco, running for reelection, did not return calls.
District 33, Hudson (Part of Jersey City, all of Hoboken, Union City, West New York and Weehawken): Brian Stack for state Senate. Ruben Ramos for Assembly. Carrie Rodriguez for Assembly.
Garden State Equality’s focus in this district is the election of Brian Stack to the state Senate. Were there a list of the 10 most interesting people in New Jersey politics, Stack would surely be on it. As reviled as he is by the local party machine for being independent, Stack, now an Assembly member and mayor of Union City, is beloved by his constituents. It’s understandable: Stack picks up garbage from the streets, works around the clock and is accessible to all. He’s also one of the most pro-active leaders we’ve ever worked with. Just before last fall’s New Jersey Supreme Court decision came down, he called us to say he would introduce a marriage equality bill were the decision to fall short. We didn’t even have to ask, and he’s been like that on every LGBTI issue over the years. Brian Stack in the state Senate could make all the difference in that chamber for marriage equality.
Garden State Equality also endorses Ruben Ramos and Carrie Rodriguez for Assembly, two proteges of Stack who share his passion and his views. This is one team Garden State Equality is proud to endorse in its entirety.