The Princeton Community Democratic Organization has endorsed New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski for governor in spite of lobbying by county leaders for candidate Phil Murphy in recent days.
More than 300 people attended a standing-room only forum featuring Democratic gubernatorial candidates Jim Johnson, Raymond Lesniak, Phil Murphy, and John Wisniewski Sunday night at the Suzanne Patterson Center in downtown Princeton. Some people were turned away because of the crowd, and complained that the event should have been moved to a larger venue given the interest in the governor’s race. Candidate Lisa McCormick complained that she was not allowed to participate in the candidate forum.
Wisniewski, a lawyer and longtime state legislator who chaired the New Jersey campaign for Bernie Sanders, beat former ambassador and Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy in a run-off vote for the local Democratic club’s endorsement, winning just over 60 percent of the vote. Several local Democrats told Planet Princeton they had received calls from county and state Democratic leaders the last few days urging them to vote for Murphy. Mercer County Democratic leaders abruptly endorsed Murphy in early October, even though Princeton resident Tom Byrne was considering running at the time.
Promoting himself as a leader who is not afraid to stand up for what is right, Wisniewski described how he pressed for an investigation into the Bridgegate scandal in spite of pressure from his colleagues not to go against Gov. Chris Christie.
“The go along to get along mentality is what’s ailing Trenton,” Wisniewski told the crowd, describing himself as a main street lawyer and stressing the importance of experience. “At this point in time we need someone with experience who understands state government and knows where we’ve made mistakes, someone who will stand up under adversity.”
Wisniewski indirectly attacked Murphy a few times, framing the fight as “Main Street versus Wall Street,” saying an outsider is not needed to lead the state again, and that party bosses at the county and municipal level should not determine who the Democratic candidate is.
“The Democratic party needs to nominate a candidate who represents the hopes and dreams of the working men and women of New Jersey and not special interests. Sadly what is going on here in Princeton is not happening around state. Party leaders are anointing people,” Wisniewski said, referring to the county Democratic chairs who rushed to endorse Murphy last fall.
“For 12 years we’ve been governed by well-intentioned outsiders who are not from Trenton,” Wisniewski said, referring to Jon Corzine and Chris Christie.
Wisniewski said he would support a single-payer healthcare system in New Jersey, a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition for family earning under $125,000 a year, the legalization of marijuana, and the end of for-profit prisons.
Murphy, who said he is the problem solver Trenton needs, stressed three themes — fighting against failed special interest politics, fighting to get the economy right, and standing for the right things again.
“If we don’t get the economy right, we don’t get New Jersey right,” Murphy said, adding that he is a proponent of a public bank system for the state that would have three lines of business — offering student loans at more reasonable rates, funding small business growth and start ups, and lending money to municipalities for small-scale infrastructure projects. He said the state must own up to its pension obligations for public employees, find more sources of potential revenue, and cut off hedge fund and private equity investments, which he said cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars each year.
Murphy said the state needs to reignite the STEM economy and the infrastructure economy, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, make earned sick leave a right for everyone, offer a caregiver tax credit, make college affordable again, sign sensible gun safety laws, push back against climate change, and support equal pay for equal work. “Governors will matter more than ever before, given this president and the last seven-plus years of Chris Christie,” he said. “You need a governor who will fight.”
Lesniak, who has been serving in the New Jersey State Senate since 1983, stressed environmental protection, vowed to fight the PennEast pipeline, said he would double funding to Planned Parenthood, and said he would make New Jersey a sanctuary state.
“I’m not running to win, I’m running to make a difference, and that is why I will win,” he said, adding that New Jersey is not affordable and that one solution is putting private citizens on public authority boards to serve as agency watchdogs.
Johnson, a former U.S. Under Secretary of the Treasury and federal prosecutor, highlighted the New Jersey foreclosure rate and unemployment rate as two problems that need to be addressed. He spent a large portion of his comments discussing his track record and experience in federal government. Johnson said the state needs to make the right sorts of investments — investments in emerging fields rather than in providing tax subsidies to existing businesses. He also said the state needs to get more money from the federal government.
Wisniewski said he opposed the recent gas tax because the deal gave away a billion dollars a year in the form of a tax cut for 3,500 families. “The Dems led it, but it was a mistake. The leadership in Trenton embraced transactional politics, giving away money to the wealthy and making the rest pay,” he said, adding that 11.5 cents of the gas tax increase will be used to balance the budget. “This is a crime that should not be allowed to stand,” he said, adding that NJ Transit needs to be funded properly and that the state should be expanding its rail and mass transit capacity.
Murphy said the state used to be a national model for transportation infrastructure and once was a leader in solar power. “We need to reignite the green economy and get back to leading the nation,” he said.
Lesniak called the gas tax bill “the worst bill ever passed” and said the state spends more for road construction than any other state in the nation. He called Christie’s decision to cancel a new Hudson River train tunnel a terrible mistake.
While all the candidates said they would push for affordable healthcare for all New Jersey residents, Wisniewski was the only one who promoted a single-payer system. Murphy said the state should band with other states and push for affordable care. He also said the state should make sure people have free access to birth control.
Lesniak called mass incarceration the new Jim Crow and said the state needs to eliminate mandatory sentences. He said the prison system needs to focus more on reforming inmates and voiced his opposition to solitary confinement.
Murphy said he supports legislation to legalize marijuana as “the right thing to do” and added that it would have economic benefits for the state.
Wisniewski said legalizing marijuana is “a good first step” and added that for-profit prisons must be abolished. “It’s wrong that people profit from incarceration, he said. “It should be a way to rehabilitate an offender, not to earn dollar off a person.”
Lesniak said the state needs to provide more funding for higher education so it is affordable. He also said the state needs to provide prenatal services to mothers. “It’s the most important time, and we are missing that,” he said. In response to questions about where the candidates stand on charter schools, he said he is not against charters, but they needs the same accountability and oversight as public schools.
“I’m dead set against the expansion of the Princeton Charter School,” Murphy said. “It doesn’t have local support as far as can tell. Without local support there is not the rationale to pursue expansion.”
Wisniewski said there should be a moratorium on opening new charter schools. “Charter schools were a noble experiment to provide education innovation,” he said. “Under this governor they have been a pathway to education privatization. Every dollar going to a charter is a dollar not going to public education.”
Murphy vowed to stand up to the federal government when it comes deporting undocumented immigrants.” I will not abide by random stop and frisk orders from on high,” he said, adding that he supports statewide identification cards, and access to in-state financial aid for undocumented students.
Wisniewski said as governor he would make sure the law enforcement community understands the state is not going to enforce any edicts out of Washington. “It’s the right thing to do, but it is also practical,” he said. “The biggest mistake is to make people afraid to report crimes.”
Lesniak said he would challenge threats to cut off federal funding for sanctuary cities and added that having immigrants living in fear every day is un-American. “Donald Trump has a problem with sanctuary cities,” he said. “I say make New Jersey a sanctuary state.”
— Patty Cronheim (@PCronheim) February 13, 2017
— Patty Cronheim (@PCronheim) February 13, 2017