Battling it out for the 9th district
Secaucus weighs in on the Democratic congressional primary
by Adriana Rambay Fernández
Reporter staff writer
Jun 03, 2012 | 2080 views | 1 1 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ROTHMAN VISITS WITH RESIDENTS – Congressman Steven Rothman (center) has made several stops in Secaucus during the primary campaign.
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Voters in Secaucus on Tuesday will choose between two veteran Democrats, U.S. Rep Steven Rothman (D-Englewood) and U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson). Both men have gone head to head in a contentious primary battle for the 9th district that has mostly been fought outside of the town’s borders in Bergen and Passaic counties.

While most local voters are familiar with their long-time representative Rothman, not all are convinced Secaucus will be an easy win for him. Rothman, 59, has portrayed himself as the “Progressive Champion” while Pascrell, 75, has described himself as the “Fighter.”

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Pascrell and Rothman have both shared the national stage and worked together in Congress through eight terms but there is only room left for one in the spotlight.

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Both men were former mayors, have often been described as close friends, and have had similar voting records but have gone to lengths to chisel out distinctions. Voters will have to sift their way through the rhetoric on the issues to determine which candidate is the better representative to challenge a Republican for the House seat in November, but it may just boil down to a choice on character, personal traits, and resonance.

The 9th squeeze

When redistricting combined portions of Congressional Districts 5, 8, and 9 into two districts it pitted two men against each other who started out in Congress together in 1996. At the time, Rothman beat Kathleen Donovan in the 9th district to fill the seat left open after Robert Torricelli went on to the Senate and Pascrell gained a seat in the 8th for the Democrats when he beat William Martini. Back then the Democrats were attempting to regain control of the House as they are today.

However, this year the loss of one House seat in New Jersey after the 2010 U.S. Census added a challenge to winning the 25 seats needed to regain control. Secaucus and Kearny are the only Hudson County municipalities in the new 9th, which includes parts of Bergen, Passaic, and Hudson counties.

The redistricting originally pitted Rothman, who lived in Fair Lawn, against Republican Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Wantage) in the 5th District. But Rothman moved to Englewood, choosing to run in the 9th against fellow Democrat Pascrell, much to the national and state Democrats’ chagrin. They wanted him to face Garrett, a very conservative Republican, in November.

Pascrell has hammered away at Rothman because of this decision.

“Steve Rothman continues to try and represent himself as a progressive and the ‘Democrat’s Democrat’ but he packed his bags and left his home to fight a Democrat instead of ‘Conservative’s Conservative’ Scott Garrett,” said Sean Darcy, Pascrell’s spokesman.

“This is Rothman’s home district where he was born and raised,” said Paul Swibinski of Vision Media. “He doesn’t want to represent western New Jersey and represent rural areas in Western NJ. He wants to continue to support his neighbors and his friends. He has every right to do that.”

Splitting issues

Rothman has been critical of Pascrell on issues related to reproductive rights, offshore drilling, the environment, and tax policy, among others.

“Congressman Pascrell voted against a woman’s right to choose 18 times,” said Paul Swibinski, who echoed statements made by Rothman during the debates. Rothman’s campaign received the endorsement of NARAL, which is a pro-choice organization.

“Bill Pascrell is 100 percent pro-choice,” said Darcy. “He was also recently endorsed by Heidi Ehman, former VP for NARAL-NJ, in this primary. He is a strong supporter of Roe v. Wade and led the fight in Congress to protect a woman’s right to choose in President Obama’s health care law, of which he was the author of key provisions.”

“Pascrell voted to eliminate all estate taxes even for the richest 1 percent,” said Swibinski. “He is also calling for lowering corporate taxes, and lowering capital gains taxes which would benefit the truly wealthy.”

Pascrell has countered the attacks on his voting record on taxes for the wealthy by stating that he is battling the Tea Party in Washington, DC.

“The radical Republicans in the Tea Party want more tax cuts for the rich, paid for on the backs of the middle class and seniors,” said Pascrell. “Democrats must not back down from this assault on our values.”

At the local level

Rothman received the support of Mayor Michael Gonnelli, Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, and Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari.

Hudson County endorsements for Pascrell include Senator Brian Stack, Freeholder William O’Dea, and Freeholder Jeffrey Dublin.

Secaucus residents have had the opportunity to mingle with Rothman during several appearances at local senior and youth-related events.

Pascrell has not visited as often but did hold a press conference on federal funding for transportation at the Frank R. Lautenberg Secaucus Junction station and he visited a young woman who was being treated for a traumatic brain injury at Meadowlands Hospital.

Both men were present at the Memorial Day Parade.

While Rothman has received endorsements from top officials, a number of Pascrell signs have popped up on lawns throughout town, which indicates grassroots support. Several voters have referred to those signs and believe Pascrell has been able to make inroads in what has been considered Rothman country.

“He is the Secaucus Congressman,” said Swibinski of Rothman. “We are certainly hoping that a lot of Secaucus Democrats vote because we expect him to win in Secaucus.”

Rothman has often pointed out that he is the only Democrat on the Appropriations Committee and said in a debate that he has brought back more than $2.2 billion in earmarks for Northern New Jersey. Among things Rothman has done for Secaucus specifically, he has secured $50,000 for communications equipment for the Secaucus Police Department in 2006, $100,000 for police technology in a 2009 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Bill, and money from a Secure Our Schools Grant in 2003.

Pascrell sits on the Ways and Means Committee and said he brought back $3.7 billion to the constituents in his district before re-districting.

“From Paterson to Montclair, everyone within the district knew Congressman Pascrell was fighting for them, and they also knew they could count on him and his office to handle whatever constituency needs presented themselves to people throughout the district,” said Darcy. “He would bring that same effective advocacy and fighting spirit to the new district, including Secaucus.”

On the national stage

Rothman has often pointed out that he was first on a number of issues and that he was the first Democrat in New Jersey to pledge support for President Barak Obama when he ran against Hillary Clinton. David Axelrod, senior advisor to the President, on May 23 came to NJ to pledge his support.

“I came here today to ask you for the president and for the country. To return to Congress an incredible powerful voice,” said Axelrod. “Barak Obama needs Steve Rothman and Steve Rothman needs Barak Obama and so do we, so let’s get to work on that next.”

Former President Bill Clinton planned to make an appearance at a rally last Friday for Pascrell.

“I know Bill Pascrell, and he is the fighter we need to support President Obama,” President Clinton said in a statement. “We can’t afford to lose his ideas, energy, and experience just when they’re needed most.”

Pascrell and Rothman have both shared the national stage and worked together in Congress through eight terms but there is only room left for one in the spotlight.

Getting down to the vote

Secaucus ballots represent a small percentage in the 9th district, which has136,426 registered Democrats as of May 22. In Secaucus there are 10,425 registered voters: 5,883 Democrats, 3,639 unaffiliated, and 896 Republicans as of March 22.

Political volunteer Dan Amico had already filed an absentee ballot and voted for Rothman “because he has represented this area for a number of years. He knows the area and he has been good to Secaucus.” Amico added that it was unfortunate that the area had to suffer and lose a good congressman because of redistricting.

“It hurts me that the two of them are running against each other because I happen to like Congressman Pascrell as well but you have to choose.”

Councilman James Clancy spoke about Pascrell during a council meeting when the Congressman paid for roundtrip airline tickets for parents whose daughter was being treated for a traumatic brain injury at Meadowlands Hospital. The family is from California.

“I was just impressed with the gentlemen,” said Clancy last week. He said that he was impressed that Pascrell helped the family out.

Clancy said he would consider voting for Congressman Pascrell.

Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at afernandez@hudsonreporter.com.

Comments
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JimChieco
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June 03, 2012
As a former Veterans Advocate who knows both of these Congressmen from my work in Hackensack and Paterson I know both to be good men and Representatives. However, I must admit that I am surprised that Rep. Rothman actually moved his residence in order to run against Rep.Pascrell in a Primary rather then challenge the Republican. In doing what he did we are almost assured of losing one Democrat in Congress now possibly two.

I would have respected mr Rothman more if he stood his ground and ran against the Republican.

Even though he is the younger Candidate I must support Mr Pascrell since it is basically his district.