Albio Sires, the incumbent congressman and former mayor of West New York, will face off against independent Democrat Michael J. Shurin in the June 5 Democratic primary. The 8th District was formerly the 13th district until boundary lines were changed this year, cutting off most of its most southern geographic territory in Union County and expanding it into Essex County. The district has also changed in Hudson County, where it now includes a greater portion of Jersey City, lesser parts of Bayonne, all of Guttenberg, Hoboken, Union City, Weehawken, West New York, and North Bergen.
Sires is experienced
Although Sires was the first Hispanic to ever serve as the speaker of the State Assembly (which he did from 2002 to 2006), he said he still misses being mayor sometimes, saying that he felt extremely effective in getting things done.
“If you want to put up a sign or statue in a park, you can do it,” he said.
“I will use my title as Congressman to support outsider candidates and help usher in a new era of leaders in Hudson Count.” – Michael J. Shurin
An active Democrat since the 1970s, Sires has come under fire from his opponent Shurin for switching to the Republican Party in 1994, and later becoming a registered Independent before switching back to Democrat a short time later.
Sires said as an opponent of then-Mayor Anthony DeFino, also a Democrat, he had to run as a non-Democrat, but said he’s always been one.
Running on his record
Sires has brought in officials from the federal Department of Homeland Security to Hudson County several times in order to make clear the high risk this area faces as a potential terrorist target.
“I want to make sure when funds are being doled out, this area gets its fair share,” he said.
Cuts in federal funding, however, will hamper efforts to expand the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Line, although Sires’ vision is to have it extend to the Meadowlands Sports Complex.
He said Republicans gutted the transportation bill this year from $385 billion to the currently-proposed $155 billion.
He said he hopes things will change when President Barack Obama gets reelected.
“The big challenge,” he said, “is to not balance the federal budget on the backs of the poor.”
But some of the proposals by the GOP would cut things like Meals on Wheels in order to create tax cuts for the wealthy.
“We have to deal with tax reform,” he said. “But it has to be fair.”
He is currently opposed to the massive closing of post offices around the nation, and said that these offices should expand their services by becoming places where people can wire money and perform other kinds of services not currently done by post offices.
As speaker of the state Assembly, Sires set up the first center in the nation dedicated to the study of treatments for Tourette syndrome, a condition that affects the brain and nervous system. Under a proposed bill, Sires hopes get the National Institute of Health to focus more attention on this condition, something he said will not cost additional money.
He has also pushed for increased funding for creation of parks and other recreational facilities for youth, especially in urban areas.
Shurin running to create change
“The experiences of my life, not ideology, are the foundation of my policy proposals and the reason I am running for Congress. I’m extremely concerned about violent crime associated with the illegal drug trade, and teenagers having such easy access to drugs,” Shurin said. “As well, our nation needs leaders in Congress 100 percent committed to a balanced budget. I’m ready to make the tough fiscal decisions now, Rep. Sires has proven that he’s not.”
Shurin says he’s not part of the political establishment.
“I’m not a career politician, and have taken no money from special interest groups,” he said. “I’m very informed on all the issues, and will always put people first.”
Shurin said the most important issues to him are drug policy, the economy, immigration, and education.
“My priorities on those issues include a balanced budget, legalized marijuana and harm reduction for hard drugs, passing immigration reform similar to McCain-Kennedy, and school vouchers.”
He said if elected he will work to fix the issues most important to him in a bipartisan manner.
“I will use my title as congressman to support outsider candidates and help usher in a new era of leaders in Hudson County,” he said. “Some say to fix the political mess you have to start from the bottom, I can’t disagree more. Hudson County is a cesspool of corruption, not that Congress is much better, and I would rather not be guilty by association. Hudson County needs a face and name for reform. I’m ready to be that person.”
Some critical issues
Shurin called the new 8th District “one of the most egregiously gerrymandered districts in America: it covers parts of four counties, and divides three cities along mostly racial lines,” and said that the primary is the equivalent to winning the election in a mostly Democratic district.
He is running because he believes Sires has failed to deal with the issues of the district, saying that country is in a major downward trend, and blames Sires for voting to bail out Wall Street and to cut Social Security.
Sires, however, disputes these claims, saying he voted to maintain Social Security.
But Shurin said Sires voted for the payroll tax cut which funds Social Security, a measure passed by Congress to increase public spending as an effort to revive a sluggish economy.
“He did not cut spending from Social Security, he cut spending from SNAPS (food stamps) to bailout public sector unions,” Shurin said. “To argue he didn’t cut Medicare spending is ridiculous. He voted for ACA (Obamacare) which cut $500 billion out of Medicare.”
Sires refused to back off his support for President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform, saying it retained health insurance for young adults still in college, for people with pre-existing conditions, and has the potential to improve coverage for about hundreds of thousands of residents. Improved Medicaid will close “the part D donut hole” in Medicaid coverage, a gap that was instituted under President George W. Bush that requires subscribers whose total drug costs reach $2,830 to pay the full cost of prescription drugs until their out-of-pocket cost reaches $4,550, when Medicaid coverage resumes.