Each New Jersey legislative district has one state senator and two Assembly representatives – and local voters will head to the booths this Tuesday to choose the Democratic and Republican primary candidates who will face each other for those seats in November.
In the 33rd District – including Union City, Weehawken, Hoboken, and part of Jersey City – voters have several choices.
For state Senate, Sen. Brian Stack (who also serves as mayor of Union City) is the only Democratic candidate for that spot. In November, he will face the only Republican candidate for the seat, Hoboken resident James Sanford.
The race offers more options when it comes to the two Assembly seats.
In the Democratic primary, Stack is heavily favored to usher in his two Assembly candidates, but they do have competition, particularly from voters in Jersey City.
One of the two Assembly candidates on Stack’s ticket is Carmelo Garcia of Hoboken, who also runs that city’s federally funded Housing Authority (HHA) projects and is a member of the school board. Five Hoboken residents filed suit last month to get him off the ballot, saying his full-time HHA job was a conflict, but they were ultimately unsuccessful.
Also on that ticket, which is endorsed by the county’s longtime political organization – the Hudson County Democratic Organization (HCDO) – is Jersey City Deputy Mayor Raj Mukherji.
Only one candidate is running for state Senate from the Democratic and Republican sides.
Also running for Assembly as Democrats are engineer John Hilt IV of Union City and entrepreneur Anthony Mills of Jersey City. Hilt and Mills are running together on a “citizens first” platform that rejects bureaucracy and embraces populism.
Only two candidates are running in the Republican primary for Assembly, all but securing their place in the November general election (except for write-in candidates). Jude Anthony Tiscornia, a Jersey City-based attorney, said that his campaign with running mate Armando Hernandez, a former Union City municipal judge, is mainly about giving a voice to “urban conservatives.”
The 33rd legislative district encompasses around 300,000 voters.
Garcia said last week that, if he is elected, his main objectives in Trenton would surround the strengthening of housing and infrastructure in post-Hurricane Sandy New Jersey, lessening the burden on students facing high-interest loans in a struggling economy, and increasing employment through the creation of vocational programs throughout the district.
“The main goal is going to be figuring out how to secure funding and legislation that can improve lives for residents of the 33rd District while still maintaining its diversity,” he said, noting that in Trenton, the district has a reputation as one of the state’s most affluent, though it may not be the reality.
“Because of our proximity to New York City and a lot of the new development happening in Hoboken and Jersey City, it’s going to be a challenge to show in Trenton that we need as much assistance as other districts, but we’ve got to try and maintain the middle class,” he said.
Mukherji said job creation and retention are important in the district and he said he would like to “enact policies that will make New Jersey more affordable, while improving the quality of life.” Specifically, he said he would like to use the state’s “economic incentive programs, like the Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit and the [Business Employment Incentive Program], to catalyze job creation and attract employers to New Jersey and spur more development.”
Such incentives, Mukherji added, could help a municipality like Jersey City redevelop parts of the city, like Journal Square, that were overlooked during the Hudson County’s pre-recession renaissance.
“I also have a specific interest in health care and I would like to be involved in how the state used the tools given to us by President Obama and the Affordable Healthcare Act,” Mukherji said.
A recent law school graduate who plans to take his bar exam later this year, Mukherji is no stranger to Trenton. He founded Impact NJ, a lobbying firm that does business in the state capitol, and he previously worked there as a managing partner. Part of his interest in running for the 33rd Assembly seat, he said, is to use some of what he learned “working on the other side of the fence” to the benefit of constituents back home.
Basso said that creating jobs would be one of his main focuses in Trenton.
“New Jersey has the seventh highest unemployment rate in the nation, and although it has come down in the last few months, which decrease reflects that people are not looking for work, rather than us generating jobs,” he said. “This isn’t helping the middle class and working families of our district.”
The bracketed Hilt-Mills ticket, which has garnered relatively little press during the campaign, is aimed at returning politics to the people, said Hilt.
“My career is not in politics; it’s in engineering, and so I want to take that approach to working in Trenton,” he said. “It’s going to be systematic and aimed at problem-solving.”
Interestingly, both Hilt and Mills said that they have no further political ambitions than serving the 33rd district in the Assembly.
“We felt a necessity to take a stand against political machines,” said Hilt. “I haven’t taken a nickel from anybody to remain independent, and that’s the way we’ll solve problems on a daily basis.”
Mills echoed Hilt’s populist attitude, saying “We are not looking to make a career of public service, but rather to serve one or two terms and do the best we can to make our constituents’ lives better.”
Both candidates listed job creation as their first priority.
“The district and state are not employer friendly, which causes job loss. We need to bring more employers into the district and state by being more business friendly,” said Mills.
Because of the district’s overwhelmingly Democratic bias, Republican candidates are usually considered underdogs in the November general election. But Tiscornia said that he and running mate Hernandez won’t be “throwing in the towel” just yet.
Tiscornia, who runs a law practice across the street from the Jersey City courthouse, said that he and Hernandez plan on marketing themselves to voters as moderate conservatives, in touch with the needs of residents and willing to reach across the aisle to make changes in Trenton.
“Gov. Christie has taken a lot of flak from the extreme right for working with our brothers and sisters in the Democratic Party, but I respect that,” said Tiscornia. “My objective isn’t going to be to jam right-wing rhetoric down people’s throats, but to bond over our similarities and get things done at the end of the day.”
Calling himself an “urban Republican,” Tiscornia listed the environment and lowering “or at least stabilizing” taxes as his and Hernandez’s main goals.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.