WEST NEW YORK - U.S. Congressman Robert Menendez's campaign for re-election as the 13th District Democratic representative officially began last Monday with a focus on reforming education. He called for an expansion of the federal government's role in public education and for gun control for safer schools. Menendez, a Union City native, is seeking his fifth term in the House of Representatives. Before an audience of politicians, reporters and children busy playing with jigsaw puzzles at West New York's Head Start center at 5602 Boulevard East, Menendez spoke about education as "the foundation of opportunity." He also spoke about working to make health education more affordable and the protection of social security benefits for future recipients. Saying he rejects misguided views of urban schools because it has "become fashionable to bash public education," Menendez said the federal government's role should be expanded to provide funds needed to support services to make public schools a place for pride. Menendez said that Union City school children should not have to eat lunch at 10 a.m. as a result of overcrowding. He also wants to implement better training programs for teachers. "The message on education here is about creating skill, about understanding a new economy and that is fundamentally the question of education," Menendez said. He also said he would continue to work to make college and vocational schools more affordable. Menendez does not have Democratic opposition in the primaries, which will take place June 6. He will have Republican opposition from Harold Turner of North Bergen, Theresa de Leon of Jersey City and Carlos Munoz of West New York. The 13th District includes Union City, most of Jersey City and parts of Elizabeth and Linden. Menendez criticized those who support a limited role of the government, saying, "The Republican Party in the last Congress sought to abolish the federal Department of Education. That's a different vision of the Democrats who believe that the government has a role. Our vision is, if we have national priorities that include reducing class size, providing for more qualified teachers, not just certified, those are national priorities that you target your money towards." Menendez also commented on gun control and school safety. Saying this was a "complex issue, " he believes guns should be registered "with at least the same scrutiny that we register cars." He added, "We put childproof caps on aspirin bottles; it is time to put childproof locks on guns." Menendez also briefly touched on other issues including health care and Social Security. He said he is calling for a patient's bill of rights to guarantee health care for everyone. Asked about rumors that he is a possible Vice President running mate with President-hopeful Al Gore, Menendez said his attention was focused on his re-election task at hand but that he is honored for the expressed interest by Gore. Attendees of the re-election kick-off included West New York Mayor Albio Sires, Weehawken Mayor (and West New York business administrator) Richard Turner, West New York Commissioner Sal Vega, who is also chairman of the Hudson County Freeholders, and Commissioner Michael Leggiero of Union City, who is also CEO of North Hudson Community Action Corporation. Menendez was introduced by Marisa Costal, a Memorial High School honor student who will be the school's valedictorian. She is the first student from Memorial to be awarded acceptance into Duke University.