The July 7 primary elections are fast approaching in New Jersey. In Hudson County, there are two congressional primary races heating up.
In the 8th Legislative District, Rep. Albio Sires faces a primary challenge from Hector Oseguera, an attorney from Union City, and Will Sheehan, a U.S. Navy veteran from Bayonne.
Meanwhile, in the neighboring 10th Legislative District, a similar situation is occurring. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. faces a challenge from two educators, Jersey City teacher John Flora and professor at Rutgers Law School Gene Mazo.
Meanwhile, there is only one candidate running in the Republican primaries for both the 8th district, Jason Mushnick, and the 10th district, Jennifer Zinone.
14 years in Congress
Born in the Cuban town of Bejucal, Rep. Sires grew up in pre-Communist Cuba before his family fled to West New York in January of 1962, with the help of relatives in America.
Sires, still a West New York resident to this day, was a teacher and businessman prior to entering politics. Before serving as Congressman for the 8th district, Sires held other positions as an elected official including Mayor of West New York and Speaker of the NJ Assembly.
The 8th district covers most of Hudson County, excluding western portions of Bayonne and Jersey City.
Today, Rep. Sires serves on three committees including the Foreign Affairs, Transportation and Infrastructure and Budget committees. Sires has been focused on improving human rights across the globe and building international partnerships to improve national security, according to his website. Sires has also been focused on “the economy, jobs, immigration, education, and affordable housing” since being reelected in 2018.
In an interview with the Hudson Reporter, Rep. Albio Sires said the economy and COVID-19 were the biggest issues in the district.
Recently, Sires has been working in Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic in Hudson County. Rep. Sires voted for both the HEROES Act and the Cares Act and has been urging for increased testing.
“At a time when the United States has had over 120,000 deaths from COVID-19 and several states are experiencing a spike in cases, it is absolutely essential that we continue to aggressively test our communities in order to accurately understand where the virus is spreading,” Sires said in a statement on June 23.
“Congress has provided tens of billions of dollars to bolster testing efforts, meanwhile the President “jokes” about slowing testing in order to give a false sense of security about the health of our country and as much as a third of the funds we appropriated reportedly remain unspent by his administration.”
Sire has been fighting for increased COVID-19 testing, noting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been holding the bill up in the Senate.
Another important topic for Sires is police reform. He said it’s time for change and he won’t ignore police reform. However, Rep. Sires does not support defunding the police.
Sires showed his support for the ongoing movement against police brutality at a recent demonstration, walking with protestors and other local elected officials in the Black Lives Matter march across North Hudson.
According to Sires, it’s time for reform, and he’s not turning a blind eye to the issue.
Rep. Sires subsequently became a cosponsor of the Democrats’ police reform legislation in the House, introduced by Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris in the Senate. Rep. Sires joined House Democrats, led by Congresswoman Karen Bass, Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler, as an original cosponsor of the Justice in Policing Act of 2020.
“Systemic racism exists in our society and it is long past time for us to take concrete steps to address the flaws in our policing system,” said Rep. Sires. “I believe that the Justice in Policing Act is a necessary step that includes important policy to address bias and the historical lack of accountability.”
In terms of the intersectionality between COVID-19 and communities of color, Sires noted how the virus also heavily affects the Hispanic community and that he would raise the issue further when the Hispanic Caucus met soon.
However, it’s difficult getting legislation passed in a divided Congress, Sires said. With Republicans in control of the Senate, Democratic legislation has stalled.
Challenging Rep. Sires in the July 7 primary is attorney Oseguera and Navy veteran Sheehan.
Standing for something
Hector Oseguera is an anti-money laundering attorney from Hudson County. Born in Hoboken, raised in West New York, living in Union City, and working in Weehawken, Oseguera knows North Hudson and wants to make a change.
In an interview with the Hudson Reporter, Oseguera said the most important issue to him is rooting out corruption from the district. As an anti-money laundering attorney, he may just have the right tools to do it.
“I’ve spent the last 16 years uncovering illicit activity in the financial sector so I believe that I’m uniquely qualified and have a very in-depth perspective as to how corruption operates, how to uncover and expose it,” Oseguera said, highlighting name-and-shame tactics to as one method of exposing corruption.
Oseguera has also been involved in the recent demonstrations in Hudson County against police brutality and systemic racism. After the Black Lives Matter march from North Bergen to Union City, Oseguera addressed the crowd.
According to Oseguera, solidarity between communities affected by police brutality is essential.
“It’s important to show solidarity with the communities that are directly affected and to stand up and say that an injustice against one is an injustice against all of us,” Oseguera said. “We have a moral obligation to be there for our brothers and sisters, not just when the cameras are rolling, not just when there are marches but in our everyday lives.”
Rep. Sires was also present at a march in early June, marching alongside the North Hudson Mayors in attendance.
Oseguera also said COVID-19 was another important issue in his campaign, as well as the virus’ disproportionate impact on communities of color.
“We’re a community that suffers from double the national uninsured rate and the reason why COVID hit a community like ours so hard is specifically because we have so many people who cannot afford to see a doctor when they need to. That’s become a real public health crisis on the top of the pandemic.
Oseguera said some people would rather risk their lives then get tested because they are afraid of the potential bill that may accommodate treatment and potential hospitalization from COVID-19, iterating his support for Medicare-for-all as a solution the issue.
While his campaign is aggressively progressive Oseguera is no cookie-cutter candidate. He said he has a specific and comprehensive plan to affect change in the district.
“This campaign is not just AOC in Hudson County, this is so much more than that,” Oseguera said. “This is about political corruption, which everybody recognizes is a problem here in the district.”
However, that was no dig at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In emphasizing his campaign’s grassroots in Hudson County, Oseguera actually in part draws inspiration from Rep. Ocasio Cortez.
Prior to his run for Congress, Oseguera volunteered on Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s first successful campaign. Now, it’s his turn to run in hopes of affecting change locally.
“Battle tested, mission ready”
Another candidate, a U.S. Navy veteran from Bayonne, is also running for Congress in the 8th district.
Will Sheehan is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, a former SEAL TEAM Intelligence Officer, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Having grown up in Bayonne, Sheehan served the country and now wants to serve his hometown.
“For the past 14 years, ineffective leadership in Washington has hurt the residents of New Jersey’s 8th Congressional District,” per his campaign website. “With crumbling infrastructure, stagnant wages, and stifled economic opportunities, we need more than just a representative, we need a fighter.”
Sheehan has been mainly campaigning for quality education, term limits, and standing up for veterans.
To ensure quality education for all, Sheehan is committed to fighting against the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts for public schools and public school teachers.
If elected, he plans to create a federal program that provides financial assistance to school districts like Jersey City to alleviate budget deficits and prevent mass teacher layoffs.
The family legacy
In the 10th legislative district, incumbent Rep. Donald Payne Jr. faces a local progressive challenger from Hudson County as well.
Donald Payne Jr. was elected to Congress in 2012, following the death of his father and then-Congressman Donald Payne Sr. Payne Sr. was the first black House member from New Jersey, elected in 1988.
The 10th legislative district represents the western portions of Bayonne and Jersey City in Hudson County as well as parts of Essex and Union counties.
Payne Jr. has been “working to create jobs and grow the economy, protect and invest in our children, and ensure the health and safety of our communities.”
Rep. Payne Jr. handily won a six-way primary back in 2012 and four-way primary in 2014. Payne Jr. didn’t see a challenger in 2016, but again handily won his primary in 2018. Now Payne Jr. looks to repeat his success.
John Flora, a Jersey City teacher, is looking to stop Payne Jr. from winning another term in 2020.
School funding, voter apathy, and political patronage were some of the issues that inspired John to look beyond the walls of his classroom, according to the Flora campaign.
As an educator, Flora argues that the country’s future will depend on its response to climate change and the quality of public education it provides to future generations.
Flora has also been waging a social media campaign against Payne Jr. under the hashtag #NoMorePayne.
Locals have been encouraged by Flora to record a short video about something they would like to see improved in the 10th District and include the hashtag #NoMorePayne before sharing it on social media, per his campaign.
Educators in the running
Gene Mazo, a professor at Rutgers Law School never wanted to be a politician. Throughout the Trump Administration, Mazo realized that his expertise in constitutional law, legislation, and election law was needed in Washington, and that NJ’s 10th Congressional District needed different representation in Congress.
“The district needs a Congressman who is an expert in federal issues, who will serve as the district’s champion, and who will actually be responsive to its constituents’ needs,” according to Mazo’s campaign.
Some of his main campaign issues include protecting democracy, restoring the American Dream, and ending corruption.
The two incumbent congressmen face new challengers amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the movement against police brutality and systemic racism. The primary election is set to take place on July 7, via vote by mail.
Every vote-by-mail ballot that is postmarked on or before July 7 and that is received by July 14 at 8:00 p.m. will be considered valid, according to Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order mandating the primary election as mainly vote-by-mail.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.