The seat was vacated last year by new Sen. Robert Menendez. Menendez himself is also running in Tuesday's primary to keep his seat, but faces no significant primary opposition (see sidebar).
The 13th Congressional District includes Union City, West New York, Weehawken, East Newark, Guttenberg, Harrison, Hoboken, and parts of Jersey City, Kearny, Bayonne, and North Bergen.
Throughout the last couple of weeks, negative ads have continued to pour from both the Sires and Vas camps. The Vas camp claims that Sires started running the ads due to recent internet polls that show Vas pulling ahead. Vas had been the underdog months ago, but began a heavy advertising campaign before Sires did.
"This is the classic reaction of a panicked political boss," said Vas. "First they tried to bully me out, then they tried to bribe me out, and now they are trying to smear me out."
In their ads, both men have accused the other of ties to certain criminals, and also have positioned themselves as strong Democrats who can take on the Bush administration.
The Sires campaign has been releasing a series of ads questioning Vas' ethics. They referenced articles from the Newark Star Ledger that said that Vas, in separate incidents, helped a heroin dealer and helped a convicted child molester get released from prison.
During an informal debate last week with the Reporter, Vas did attest to asking for leniency for a child molester in 2004, at the behest a longtime friend and without examining all the details. Vas has said that he regrets this course of action.
He also insisted that the allegations of him assisting the heroin dealer were incorrect. In that instance, Vas had accompanied his brother, who works as a bail bondsman, to the prison while the brother was doing his job, and the press misinterpreted the events.
In turn, Vas has accused Sires of being a political opportunist, citing the former Assembly speaker's past elections, where he has run as a Republican and at one time an Independent.
Vas also has noted that Sires' past campaigns took contributions from Rene Abreu, the Guttenberg businessman who was sentenced to over seven years in federal prison for real estate development schemes and bank fraud. The Vas camp also claimed that Sires attempted to deny he had received funds from Abreu. However, Sires' camp maintains that the he never denied it.
Sires Spokesperson Julie Roginsky had responded, "He has never denied that Rene Abreu gave him money. Mayor Sires feels that what Rene Abreu did was wrong and he's paying for it now, but it has nothing to do with him."
Sires and Vas on the issues
The congressional candidates have very differing opinions when it comes to the interest of the Democratic Party. During candidate profiles last week with the Reporter, the candidates touched upon a number of different issues including immigration, the war in Iraq, senior citizen care, and education.
One of their heavier disagreements revolves around immigration.
While Vas is trying to push for a the Driving Privilege Card in New Jersey, which would allow residents to obtain drivers' licenses even if they can't prove they are legally in this country, Sires has opposed the program, citing the potential security issues.
"Two of the terrorists [from 9/11] had bogus licenses from New Jersey," Sires said. "Since then, I worked with the Department of Transportation to come up with a more secure licensing program. We now have one of the most secure programs [and other states are modeling it.]"
There are also some contrasts with dealing with the war in Iraq. Although both candidates have been strongly opposed to it, Vas has called for immediate withdrawal of the troops and Sires wants a more transitional course of action.
"I always thought the war was wrong, and I think we should withdraw our troops in an orderly fashion," Sires said. "We should never have gone into Iraq. I believe Bush lied to the people."
"We have done what we were asked to do, now it is up to the Iraqi people," said Vas. "We are not nation builders."
Down to the wire
Both candidates currently serve as state Assemblyman and mayors of their corresponding municipalities, and have boasted long records of success in areas such as senior citizen needs and development.
Vas has even worked with Sires while Sires served as Assembly Speaker for the last four years.
Sires cited his own track record as a reason voters should elect him. "I'm going to Washington with a proven track record and a set of accomplishments that few people have," Sires said. "I'm not going to tell people what I will do; I'm showing people what I have done and will do it again."
Vas has positioned himself as a man of the people. "The person voters send to Washington has to stand up and be counted [upon]," Vas said. "I believe I'm that person." SIDEBAR 1
Also up Tuesday: Menendez
Union City native and current Hoboken resident Sen. Robert Menendez, is also running in the Democratic primary on Tuesday but has no significant opposition.
In November, he will face Republican opponent State Sen. Thomas Kean, Jr. to maintain his new position in the United States Senate, which was vacated by Gov. Jon Corzine following his win last November.
Kean, who has served on the New Jersey State Senate for the last three years, boasts a supposedly spotless record and recognition as the son of former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean.
Some believe Menendez could have a hard time defeating Kean in the November general election, although in a poll conducted by Survey USA early this year measured Menendez's approval rating 46 percent to 30 percent disapproving. - Jessica Rosero SIDEBAR 2
The other Sires race
Unbeknownst to even the most conscientious voters in the area, there are actually two elections on June 6 for the United States Congressional 13th District seat.
Of course, there is the more celebrated battle between former State Assembly Speaker and West New York Mayor Albio Sires and Perth Amboy Mayor Joseph Vas for the Democratic primary.
However, there is also an election for Menendez' unexpired term, a span of a little more than two months, that will pit Sires against Guttenberg resident and Paterson school system educator James Geron.
That term will run from this September until November.
Yes, the two elections appear on the same ballot at the same time. Vas only appears as a contender in the Democratic primary election, hoping to face Sires on the regular ballot come November. But Geron, a Democrat, hopes to beat Sires out of his seat right now and hold the seat from September until the next election in November.
The 43-year-old Geron ran for Congress against Menendez as a Republican in 2002, ran for the state Senate against incumbent Nicholas Sacco in 2001, and also ran for the mayor of Guttenberg in 2001. But he is now a Democrat, and he only appears on the special election ballot for the two months that remain on Menendez' last elected term.
Geron, who switched to become a member of the Democratic party last December, feels that he has good issues and concerns, but has just had a tough time trying to get the voters to realize that there is a second election for the same seat next month.
"I have to get my voice out there and let people know where I stand," said Geron, who is an administrator in the Paterson school district. "I don't look at myself as either a liberal or a conservative. I'm just an average guy, an educated man with good ideas. I analyze things one issue at a time. I don't have an agenda that is in tune with either the conservatives or the liberals. That's the thing that made me want to run this time, to plant the seeds."
Geron said that he believes that there are several important issues in the election - the war in Iraq, the struggle with immigration, the minimum wage and education.
Geron, a married father of three, believes that current elected officials are "politicizing the war...using it to their advantage."
"We can't forget the real reason why we're there and that we have our young adults fighting for our country," Geron said. "No one wants to be there. And yes, we were tricked into going there. But now that we're there, we can't just ignore what has happened and bring everyone home. They want the troops home? So do I. But we have to make sure we do it the right way."
Geron says that he has a special handle on the Mexican immigration, because he lived in the country for five years.
"We have people coming into this country from Mexico who are among the hardest workers in the world, but they're working for slave wages," Geron said. "And we're allowing big businesses to employ these people for substandard wages. That's not solving the problem."
Geron said that he decided to run for strictly the unexpired term and not for the Democratic nomination strictly for one reason.
"I think I can win this election," Geron said. "I don't know if I have the financial means to win the nomination. But the special election is different." - Jim Hague