Inflation, abortion, gun control and other national topics were discussed at the 8th Congressional District primary debate, among three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for an open seat in Congress in the November election.
Robert Menendez Jr., the son of U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, an attorney and a Port Authority Commissioner, David Ocampo Grajales, a health-care start-up worker, and Ane Roseborough-Eberhard, a public school teacher, are all running in the primary to succeed retiring Rep. Albio Sires, and attended the debate to talk about the issues at hand.
The debate was hosted by Hudson Media Group and was moderated by John Heinis of Hudson County View.
The debate mostly centered on a number of national issues in the country, with the first being the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Heinis had asked the candidates about the stimulus funding that Hudson County has received and if there should be more relief in the district.
All three supported doing more, with Menendez Jr. saying that work needs to be done to respond to the pandemic and rebuild the economy and communities.
“I think when you look at the challenges that we faced, our leaders did the best job they could in unprecedented times,” he said. “The money that was allocated to states and then ultimately to municipalities went to keep small businesses open, to keep individuals in their homes.”
Ocampo Grajales and Roseborough-Eberhard both pointed out that the pandemic highlighted inequities in a number of communities. The former said that there should be work done to level the playing field, including for infrastructure and public transportation, and the latter supported a $3,000 per household round of funding.
They were then asked about the rising inflation in the country and how they would combat it. Menendez Jr. had blamed Republicans for being “[un]willing to engage in the conversation”, and praised House Democrats and the Biden administration for taking action against inflation.
Ocampo Grajales blamed “corporate greed” for rising prices such as gas, and said that he would support a windfall tax to prevent companies from using emergencies to drive up prices, as well as go after monopolies, and raise the minimum wage. Roseborough-Eberhard said that they need to do more, and that there should be legislation to help even out inequities.
All three candidates then condemned the leaked U.S. Supreme Court decision that could overturn Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to an abortion, and said that they all support a women’s right to choose.
While Menendez Jr. said that that they have to consider “all options” to ensure legislation for abortion rights, Ocampos Grajales and Roseborough-Eberhard went a step further and supported the expansion of the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority.
“What we have on the court right now are things that are absolutely against the American people,” said Roseborough-Eberhard.
Ocampos Grajales also advocated for abolishing the Senate filibuster to pass legislation and the repeal of the Hyde Amendment that prevents the use of federal funds for abortions.
While the debate was mostly free of any back-and-forth, there was a brief exchange between Menendez Jr. and Ocampo Grajales when it came to the former’s campaign contributions from a power company.
An audience member online had asked about the candidates’ stance on the proposed power plant in the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark, which has been opposed by a number of residents due to the potential environmental harm it could do towards communities of color there.
Both Menendez Jr. and Ocampo Grajales were against it, with the latter saying that they should stop environmental injustice and hold polluters accountable by fully funding the Environmental Protection Agency and enforcing regulations.
Ocampo Grajales then took aim at Menendez Jr. for receiving money from New Jersey-based Covanta Energy, which runs a facility in the same neighborhood.
“Did they give you those donations, just as they really, really support you, even though you’re against the kinds of plants that they want to build?” asked Ocampo Grajales.
Covanta operates the Essex County Resource Recovery Facility in the Ironbound and has also been criticized by residents for causing air pollution. Records from the Federal Election Commission show that Menendez Jr.’s campaign had received a $1,000 donation from a Political Action Committee for Covanta.
“Well maybe you should ask them, but I’m here to discuss the issues that are facing the folks of the 8th Congressional District,” replied Menendez Jr.
“I think it’s a critical issue!” exclaimed Ocampo Grajales.
Eventually the debate was called to order, with Menendez Jr. saying that the campaign is about “engaging the people.”
“These are the people who I know, who I understand, who I grew up with, who I love, and I will do what’s ever in their best interest,” he said.
Roseborough-Eberhard, who was not part of the sparring, said that she would need to get more information about the power plant, but said that was unsure if they need one “so close to millions of people.”
Rest of debate
The candidates were also asked by Heinis how they would tackle gun control in the wake of the domestic terrorist event in Buffalo.
All of them supported various measures of gun control. Menendez Jr. and Ocampo Grajales supported banning assault weapons, Ocampo Grajales and Roseborough-Eberhard supported background checks, and Menendez Jr. and Roseborough-Eberhard said they would tackle mental health issues.
Another audience member online asked about the candidates’ position on the Biden administration’s new Cuba policy, which will expand flights beyond Havana, reinstate the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program and lift the family remittance cap.
Menendez Jr., who’s family is Cuban, took a stance similar to his father, saying that while he supports the family reunification program, he said that they should not give economic benefits after the Cuban regime’s response to the democratic protests from last year.
Roseborough-Eberhard echoed Menendez Jr.’s arguments, while Ocampo Grajales said that they can’t do the same thing over and over again, and said that they should support Cubans by slowly opening up while also allowing them to come to America via the reunification program.