With all of the attention paid to the municipal elections in Jersey City, there has been comparatively less enthusiasm for the June 4 Democratic Primary for the 33rd Assembly District, a district that covers several Jersey City communities. And when there has been attention to the race, it has focused on the fact that a group of Hoboken citizens filed suit to get Hoboken-based Assembly candidate Carmelo Garcia off the ballot. Yet, the field of candidates includes two from Jersey City who each say they want to advance an agenda in Trenton that will create more jobs and economic development throughout the district.
Recent law school graduate and Deputy Mayor Raj Mukherji and employment attorney Peter Basso, a former president of the Jersey City Heights-based Washington Park Association (WPA), are not running together, but agree that basic “bread and butter” issues are what matter most to the residents of the 33rd.
Each state legislative district has one state Senate slot and two Assembly seats.
Mukherji is running for Assembly on a slate headed by State Sen. Brian Stack and including fellow Assembly candidate Garcia for the other seat.
New Jersey’s 33rd District is, perhaps, the state’s most densely populated legislative district.
In recent interviews, each candidate sketched out his vision of the diverse 33rd District which, in Jersey City, spans from Journal Square into a portion of the Jersey City Heights and includes a small part of downtown.
The rest of the district includes Hoboken, Union City, and Weehawken. The district includes about 300,000 residents.
Basso: ‘There’s a lot at stake’
New Jersey’s 33rd District is, perhaps, the state’s most densely populated legislative district and, given the range of communities it covers, is also among the state’s most diverse. Despite this, Basso said the district’s residents share common needs that must be better addressed by the legislature.
“This is a gubernatorial election year and there is a lot at stake, for both the state and the residents of the 33rd District,” Basso said. “New Jersey has the seventh highest unemployment rate in the nation, and although it has come down in the last few months, that decrease reflects that people are not looking for work, rather than us generating jobs. This isn’t helping the middle class and working families of our district.”
Despite the disparate communities included in the 33rd District, Basso said all residents in the district share similar issues and concerns.
“As I’ve gone around the district, the issues aren’t too different,” said Basso. “We are all in Hudson County. Residents face the same disgust with the lack things getting done around here. They face the same concerns about infrastructure. Yes, there are some excellent infrastructure projects underway across the district, like the 14th Street Viaduct. But on a state level, we’ve seen the cancellation of the ARC tunnel, which would have created thousands of jobs for our residents and alleviated traffic and congestion and pollution in Northern New Jersey.”
An attorney who specializes in employment law, Basso has been a longtime community activist in the Heights and in well regarded for his work with the WPA. More recently he became the vice president of the Jersey City Parks Coalition and was instrumental in creating the Jersey City Parks Conservancy so the city can tap nonprofit funding resources that aren’t accessible to government entities. The formation of the conservancy should help the city find dollars to create more parks and other open spaces throughout the city.
“A lot of important work in Trenton gets done at the committee level,” said Basso. “And what I want to be able to do is support economic policies when they are still in their formative stages so that those policies can be written in a way that will have the maximum impact for residents.”
Mukherji: ‘Zealous representation’
“My priorities in a first term, if I’m lucky enough to get that chance, would be constituency services and representing the district as zealously as Sen. Stack already does,” said Mukherji. “I want to make sure the district is represented as zealously in the Assembly as it is in the Senate.”
Like Basso, Mukherji also 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. I think all of that is really important to the 33rd.”
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.
As deputy mayor, Mukherji has deferred his salary, but does receive city health benefits.
Mukherji is bracketed with fellow Democrat Carmelo Garcia on Sen. Stack’s ticket, a slate that has been endorsed by the Hudson County Democratic Organization. On top of being the executive director of the Hoboken Housing Authority, a position he has held since 2009, Garcia is also a member of the Hoboken Board of Education.
In addition to Basso, Mukherji, and Garcia, other candidates vying for the Democratic nomination include John Hilt IV and Anthony Mills, who are running bracketed together.
The field of Republican candidates for the 33rd District includes Jude Anthony Tiscornia and Armando Hernandez, who are running bracketed together.
A potential sixth Democratic candidate, Hoboken City Councilman Ravinder Bhalla, abandoned his bid for the 33rd District seat after it became clear that Carmelo Garcia remained in the running. Hoboken residents had tried to get him off the ballot because of possible conflicts with his job running the low-income housing projects in that city.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at email@example.com.