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Grassroots Supporters Outweighed Organizations
In Democratic Primary By PAUL J. PEYTON
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times
As was the case with the Republicans, voters in Somerset County played a big factor in the Democratic Congressional primary in the Seventh District.
Although Maryanne S. Connelly failed to gain any of the organizational lines in the four counties that comprise the district – Middlesex, Somerset, Union and Essex – her campaign drew a strong grass roots contingency along with powerful backing from large women’s groups.
The strategy helped her pull off a 14,93114,636 victory, including Somerset County where she won 3,177672 over opposition Michael J. Lapolla.
Mrs. Connelly had pretty much decided she was going to run for Congress again after garnering 44 percent of the vote against incumbent Bob Franks in 1998. After Mr. Franks decided to run for the Senate thus leaving his House seat open, Mrs. Connelly thought her chances had increased threefold.
But Democratic leaders, realizing the real potential of controlling the Seventh District for the first time since the 1960s, thought they needed another candidate. Enter Mr. Lapolla.
A former freeholder, assistant prosecutor and current county manager, Mr. Lapolla was viewed by Democratic leaders as the heir apparent to Mr. Franks.
But the Lapolla campaign, which started with a thunderous kickoff celebration at Union County College in January, seemed to flounder aside from garnering organizational support in Union and Middlesex Counties. Mr. Lapolla picked up most of his voter support in places like Woodbridge, Plainfield, Linden and Roselle Park. He also did well in Kenilworth, Garwood, Clark and Mountainside.
Mrs. Connelly offset the city votes with victories in upscale communities like Hillsborough and Franklin Township, Watchung and Maplewood. In Union County, she won in Scotch Plains, New Providence not to mention her lopsided win in Fanwood where she was mayor the previous four years.
She was just nipped in Westfield, Mr. Lapolla’s home the past few years.
Mr. Lapolla won Union County, 9,1677,816, and Middlsex County, 4,3103,029. Mrs. Connelly was victorious in Essex County, 906485.
The Connelly campaign was more aggressive while Mr. Lapolla seemed to go on the attack late in the campaign. A radio spot aimed at ripping Mrs. Connelly for being twosided on the issue of school vouchers may have been the turning point in the campaign.
Instead of making Mrs. Connelly look confused, women’s groups, headed by N. O. W. (National Organization of Women) were galvanized behind Mrs. Connelly, even demonstrating before a freeholders meeting.
The radio spot seemed to take away the major support Mr. Lapolla had received from the Chairman of the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Congressman Patrick Kennedy (DR. I.).
N. O. W. went after the committee for supporting a candidate they believed was behind a “sexist” advertisement. Even some of New Jersey’s Democratic Congressmen were angry that Mr. Kennedy had endorsed a candidate as head of the DCC without apparently discussing with other committee members or the full New Jersey Democratic Congressional Delegation.
Mrs. Connelly seemingly has followed the recent trend of keeping a campaign intact following a loss. Christine Todd Whitman accomplished the fete when she was elected Governor in 1993 following her near upset of than U. S. Senator Bill Bradley in 1990.
Woodbridge Mayor James McGreevey has apparently kept his team together after nearly beating Governor Whitman in 1997.
Turning to November, both Mr. Ferguson and Mrs. Connelly were considered outsiders by party leaders in Union County. Neither won their party’s line nor captured a Union County victory on Primary Day.
Both, however, have strong organizations and feel they can win this Congressional seat. Both survived tough campaigns where they were the subjects of attacks. And, finally, both Mrs. Connelly and Mr. Ferguson ran in 1998 (in the Seventh and Sixth District, respectively) only to be on the losing end.
This time around, one of them will prove it is better the second time around.
IN THEIR HONOR… Recruits from the John H. Stamler Police Academy in Scotch Plains salute a special memorial honoring fallen police officers from throughout Union County during a recent ceremony. Here, with local police chiefs and their classmates looking on behind the academy building, they unveiled a floral wreath and read off the names of the 28 officers who gave their lives in the line of duty. Painting Himself ‘Mainstream Republican, ’
Ferguson Focuses on Tax, Education Reform By PAUL J. PEYTON
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times
NORTH PLAINFIELD — While Democrats may try to paint him as a right wing conservative, Seventh District Congressional Republican candidate Michael A. Ferguson of Warren calls himself, “a common sense, mainstream, North Jersey Republican.”
Other than his prolife stance on abortion, the candidate said he is moderate and even, in some cases, and liberal on other issues, such as gun control. He does say, however, that he is a fiscal conservative.
Mr. Ferguson, who was the GOP victor in a fourway Primary race held June 6, sat down to talk with weekly newspaper reporters last Friday at the Time To Eat Diner Too on Route 22, West, in North Plainfield.
He said his campaign will center around a complete overhaul of the current Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax codes, education reform, preserving Social Security and Medicare and supporting a Patient Bill of Rights.
The Republican candidate said he and Maryanne S. Connelly of Fanwood, the Democratic nominee, are quite different in their approaches on education and tax reform.
As a community college political science and American history professor and former parochial high school teacher in the Bronx, Mr. Ferguson’s education platform proposes:
· Testing teachers to ensure they are proficient in their subject area.
· Merit pay hikes for good teachers.
· Ending lifetime tenure for bad teachers.
Mr. Ferguson emphasized that he wants to raise the bar for quality among teachers and students alike. He said merit pay hikes, along with more local control (i. e. parents and teachers), of federal tax dollars for education will attract more younger, qualified people into the teaching profession.
When questioned on how a Congressman can impact teachers’ tenure, Mr. Ferguson noted that a Congressman must provide leadership
beyond the legislative scope of Washington. Unlike some Republicans in Washington, Mr. Ferguson is opposed to proposals to eliminate the Department of Education or the cutting of federal funding for education.
“What we need to do is spend that money more wisely,” he explained. In that regard, he favors block grants to states and local school districts that are free of restrictions, so districts can spend the money where it is most needed.
“No one has a monopoly on what works; on what is good for kids,” he explained.
One area in which the candidates are likely to disagree is school vouchers. Mrs. Connelly has said she opposes the use of tax funds for anything other than public school education. Meanwhile, Mr. Ferguson indicated that he believes vouchers would create competition in schools while also enhancing education innovations.
In terms of tax reform, The Westfield Leader and The Times of Scotch PlainsFanwood asked Mr. Ferguson to provide more insight on his plans to abolish the IRS. Mr. Ferguson explained that he favors scrapping the current, burdensome 65,000page code and replacing it with what he described as a simple, fairer system. He said he favors some sort of flat tax, or perhaps a system with three separate tax rates, that removes the current string of regulations and tax loopholes.
“I want to end it as we know it,” he explained.
Throughout the Primary campaign, Mr. Ferguson emphasized that New Jersey needs to start sending less of its money to Uncle Sam. Currently, 40 percent of the annual income of an average New Jerseyan is deducted for taxes.
Mr. Ferguson wants to change the tax system which he said is a “magnet” for special interest groups.
The candidate is a big supporter of the elimination of the federal estate tax which recently passed in the United States Senate. He said the tax is extremely burdensome on small businesses. Mr. Ferguson explained
that the tax equals out to a onetime payout that is onethird the value of an average business.
He said such a tax is “ludicrous” and only hurts the local economy. Thus, the candidate said he would favor tax cuts that spur economic growth.
Mr. Ferguson explained that paying down the national debt, now estimated at $5 trillion, would also help the economy in the long run.
Mr. Ferguson said his and Mrs. Connelly’s views do not differ much on Social Security preservation and gun safety issues. On the latter, he noted that he advocates “common
sense” legislation such as trigger locks, closing loopholes for purchases at gun shows, and the socalled “smart gun” technology.
Looking at the fall campaign, Mr. Ferguson said Republican leaders in the United States Senate and the House of Representatives will be stumping in New Jersey for his candidacy.
He feels his candidacy received a major boost upon Congressman Bob Franks’ victory in the United States Senate Primary.
Expecting a close race, Mr. Ferguson said he plans to run an aggressive campaign.
Covering Fanwood, Mountainside, Scotch Plains and Westfield, Union County, New Jersey (NJ)