Vas, who serves as mayor of Perth Amboy and an assemblyman for the 19th District, is running against West New York Mayor Albio Sires for the 13th District seat for the House of Representatives and has decided to take his campaign into Sires' backyard.
"I find a lot of support in Hudson County," Vas said, during an interview in Bayonne on March 10.
Vas and Sires are facing off in the June 6 Democratic primary.
Seen as an underdog in the race to replace Bob Menendez, who was named U.S. senator earlier this year, Vas is doing his best to paint himself as an anti-political machine candidate, someone who is running against a system of political patronage and party bosses.
Although during his interview Vas stressed his positions on key issues, his literature and campaign rhetoric has portrayed Sires as the icon of a system Vas hopes to change.
"I'm a lifelong Democrat," he said. "Unlike my opponent, I've always been a Democrat."
Sires, is a former Republican turned Democrat, who eventually became the speaker of the state Assembly.
Vas has served as mayor of Perth Amboy since 1990 and has served as a state assemblyman representing New Jersey's 19th Legislative District since 2003. He is running for Congress in the open 13th District. The seat recently was vacated by Bob Menendez.
Part of his coming to Hudson County is to egg Sires into a series of 10 debates that Vas has proposed in all four counties over which the 13th District stretches - with the first debate to take place in Hudson County.
Vas said he is even willing to let the Hudson County Democratic Organization, which supports Sires' campaign, sponsor the debate.
Vas is campaigning on several levels, locally and against the policies established by President George W. Bush. Vas supports abortion, withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, and protecting the environment.
But he also brings to the campaign a specific knowledge about redevelopment of former industrial sites, and other issues facing the predominantly urban Hudson County.
In giving reasons why voters should choose him over Sires, Vas said the 13th Congressional District needs a strong voice representing its constituents, someone who will fight to make certain residents here get their fair share of federal benefits.
"I don't believe Albio Sires can be that voice," Vas said.
A graduate of Vanderbilt University, Vas has served as mayor since 1990 prior to which he served on the Perth Amboy Planning Board and several other key development bodies in Perth Amboy, including as chairman of the Perth Amboy Redevelopment Agency.
"In Perth Amboy, the process has always been an open process, we wanted everybody to know what we are doing," he said. "That is not always the case in other places."
Vas knows local issues
As mayor of Perth Amboy, Vas said he has seen many of the same issues faced by communities in Hudson County, and found that involving everybody in the process allowed the community to move forward.
Like Bayonne, Jersey City, Hoboken and other places, Perth Amboy had many ethnic neighborhoods that included Irish, Scottish, Polish and other groups. As with places like Jersey City, the last few decades in Perth Amboy have been a process of recovering from a vanishing industry base. But unlike other communities, Perth Amboy managed to reconfigure the tax base so that commercial elements still pay the majority of the taxes, relieving the home owner of the burden of paying for services.
Vas is well aware of his city's historic distinction as one of the original capital cities of New Jersey, when in pre-revolutionary years it served as the capital of East New Jersey.
In bringing his campaign to Hudson County, Vas is apparently hoping to convince voters that they can benefit from his experiences on the municipal and state levels, and that he can become a loud voice for them in the House of Representatives.
Stern words for President Bush While Vas was critical of Sires' ability to represent the district in Washington, D.C., he saved his harshest criticism for policies currently being issued by President Bush. Changes in Medicare made by Bush seemed to benefit the prescription drug companies in New Jersey, not the elderly who need the drugs to stay alive.
He blasted the proposed deal to sell off operations of American ports to a foreign owned company with a questionable track record when it comes to terrorism.
Vas also has asked the United States Congress to set a firm deadline for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, citing the deaths of more than 2,000 soldiers and the serious wounds more than 17,000 other soldiers have suffered.
"Our troops are heroes, each and every one of them," he said. "However, they deserve better. Our troops continue to fight in Iraq without the proper weapons, without the proper body armor, without the proper armored vehicles, and without the proper troop strength to ensure their own security."
Vas said Bush's policies around the world have resulted in a loss of American prestige.
Vas is also a staunch supporter of stem cell research and said he frequently pushed Sires - when Sires served as speaker of the Assembly - to move legislation to the floor of the Assembly for a vote.
Although sharply criticized for his position on providing illegal immigrants with driving privileges, Vas said the president's Real Identification Act has created more problems than it solved since it requires immigrants to provide levels of identification they may not yet be able to provide.
"This allows them to drive legally while they get their paperwork in order," he said. "That means they must have a registered and insured vehicle."
In seeking votes in Hudson County, Vas promised to work as hard as he can if elected to the House of Representatives and to correct what he calls excesses of the current administration.
"I will fight to protect women's right to choose and to preserve civil liberties, which are an essential part of our democracy," he said.
Al Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.