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9086545296 908654LAWN SPRING MULCH SPECIAL GOP Candidates Try to Separate From Each Other on Residency,
Elective and Practical Experience During Scotch Plains Forum By PAUL J. PEYTON
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times
SCOTCH PLAINS — Seven Republican candidates for the Seventh Congressional seat were asked questions ranging from what federal programs they would cut to who they support in the U. S. Senate race in New Jersey.
Participating in the forum held in a secondfloor meeting room of the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad were Tom Kean Jr., the son of former Governor Thomas H. Kean; Assemblyman Joel Weingarten of Millburn (R21st); Mike Ferguson of Warren, who was the party’s nominee in 1998 in the Sixth District; law student Eric Urbano of Scotch Plains; Green Brook Mayor Patricia Walsh, former House Commerce Committee Counsel Patrick Morrisey of Westfield, and former Woodbridge City Council President and Fire Chief Ken Gardner.
Prior to the question and answer format, each candidate gave an opening statement.
Mr. Weingarten, in his opening remarks, distinguished himself from the candidates on the basis of longtime residency and elective legislative experience in the Seventh District. His remarks were aimed at Mr. Kean, considered his chief rival for the Union County Republican line in the June 6 Primary, and Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Morrisey.
“With all due respect to my opponents, all of whom I think are well intentioned, some of them have simply moved into this district to run for this seat,” he said, adding that all of the candidates should want to “pay their dues” and learn the needs of the constituents before seeking office.
“One should not shop a Congressional district,” he said. Mr. Ferguson noted that he grew up in the area, graduating from the Delbarton School in Morristown.
After graduation from college, he taught high school in the Bronx. He called the job a “life exchanging experience” that made him want to work to improve the education system.
He later gained a master’s degree in Public Policy, specializing in education policy. Mr. Ferguson noted he also has taught political science at the college level. Mr. Ferguson also started an education consulting business where he works with schools on scholarship programs and nonprofit organizations.
Mr. Ferguson said he believes his “real life experience” in education would be an asset in Congress on the issue of education reform. He favors transferring power out of Washington and back into the local school districts, as does a number of the other candidates.
The candidate also wants to scrap the Internal Revenue Service and
replace it with something that “fairer and simpler” along with reducing the tax code on families and businesses.
Mr. Gardner reiterated his past comments on the race by breaking his opposition into two categories: three candidates who have never held public office and who have never lived in the district.
Mr. Gardner was Woodbridge Council President when 1997 Democratic Gubernatorial candidate James McGreevey was first elected Mayor.
He continued to emphasize the pressure he could keep on Mr. McGreevey by being elected to Congress if the Woodridge Mayor runs for Governor again next year.
Mr. Gardner noted his active participation in assisting Governor Christine Todd Whitman’s campaign staff to provide information to them on Mr. McGreevey in the 1997 election.
The candidate, who ran against Mr. McGreevey in the city’s 1995 Mayoral race, said he is the only Republican who is “( political) battled tested.”
Mr. Weingarten, however, noted he has beaten Democrats in four races in his career. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the 21st Legislative District, which he represents.
Mr. Gardner said he is the only “true conservative” in the race, noting he voted against tax hikes and proposed alternative plans.
By comparison, Mr. Gardner said, some of his opponents have voted for tax increases and large bond issues.
Mr. Weingarten said he has cut taxes 16 times in his political career in Trenton. He noted he sponsored legislation to extend hospital stays for women who have undergone breast cancer surgery and to create New Jersey’s Welfare reform law that caps the time New Jerseyans can stay on government assistance at five years.
Mr. Morrisey, who grew up in Edison and graduated from Rutgers University and the Rutgers Law School in Newark, pointed to his federal experience with the House Commerce Committee in drafting legislation.
“It’s a jungle down in Washington,” he said, noting he negotiated with the White House, the Senate and Speaker of the House.
He said the GOP nominee should have knowledge of federal issues impacting the Seventh District.
Mr. Morrisey was the regional field director for the National Republic Campaign Committee (NRCC) in 1994, noting that he helped the GOP pick up 26 House seats that year to take the majority for the first time in 40 years.
In the House Commerce Committee, he worked on Medicare, Managed Care and issues effecting pharmaceuticals.
“This is a serious race and we need someone who has battled tested and
who has been in the room, and who has had to negotiate with Bill Clinton’s advisors and who has had to beat back Bill Clinton. No one else in this room can say that,” he explained.
Mr. Urbano, who at 27 is the youngest of the field of serve, called himself “a new image candidate” and one who can attract “those nontraditional” and “middle of the road” voters to the Republican side.
“I say we are the party of freedom and opportunity and inclusion. And we are the party of ideas,” he said.
He said the GOP needs to put up someone who successfully debate a likely “savvy” Democratic opponent in the fall.
Mr. Urbano said he advocates tax exempt Individual Retirement Accounts and tax exempt medical savings accounts, the latter of which he said will lower medical costs resulting in more competition and higher quality medical care for all Americans.
He was the winning defense attorney in a case whereby President Clinton had tried to deport a widowed Kosovo woman with a child from the U. S.
Ms. Walsh, a registered nurse employed in home health care, said she has “fought the beaucracy of quality of life issues” and forced policy changes through the state’s Department of Transportation and the Alcoholic Beverage Commission. However, Ms. Walsh believes her strength is in the area of health care policy. She also said she would fight for federal solutions to congestion and transportation issues impacting this area.
Mr. Kean said the party needs to elect a candidate who can beat a Democrat in November. He said Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt is looking at the seat in his effort to become House Speaker in a new Democratic majority.
He said polls show he is the only Republican who can be the Democrats. Mr. Franks worked in Congressman Bob Franks’ Washington office and as a Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) staffer.
He wants to focus on bringing federal funds to help New Jersey rebuild its infrastructure and also to reduce congestion. The candidate vowed to protect Social Security and Medicare, buy down the national debt and cut taxes.
“I want to improve the tenor of discourse in Washington D. C.,” Mr. Kean emphasized.
During questions from the audience on the issue of mass transit problems in the district, Mr. Ferguson noted that the federal government’s job is to free state and local governments of restrictions that hamper them to address parking and related issues.
Mr. Gardner said he supports a tax cut for on corporations that support telecommunicating, in which people work at home and communicate with their coworkers via the computer.
Mr. Kean said he would expand on NJ Transit’s Midtown Direct oneseat ride to New York City and on Light Rail efforts. He said federal government needs to provide transportation, such as providing light rail to expand existing train lines.
Mr. Morrisey said he would focus on bringing more federal transportation dollars back into the state.
Mr. Urbano said more controls should be given to states and local towns to make rail lines more efficient and to free up parking and congestion.
Mayor Walsh said car pool employee incentives, along with government subsidized bus and jitney lines would reduce congestion.
Answering a questioned posed to her on the Watchung Square Mall that is to be constructed on Route 22, Ms. Walsh said she bitterly fought the D. O. T. officials, which had jurisdiction, over the development.
On the endorsement question, Mr. Ferguson, Mr. Kean and Mayor Walsh all said they have officially endorsed Congressman Bob Franks. Mr. Gardner, Mr Morrisey and Mr. Urbano, while supportive of the Congressman, have not formally made
an endorsement. Mr. Weingarten said he is supporting Essex County Executive James Treffinger who he served under as budget director. He noted he made his decision before Mr. Franks had entered the race. He said Mr. Franks, at one point, had indicated |he would not seek the Senate seat.
He said “he has to be able to sleep at night” and he could only do that by sticking by his word.
On a question of what committees they would seek if elected to Congress, Mr. Kean said he would seek Ways and Means or Commerce. Mr. Morrisey said, due to work with the Committee, he believes, if elected, he would have an “excellent chance” to serve on the Commerce Committee. The committee has jurisdiction over health care, energy, environmental and finance issues.
Fanwood Councilman Stuart Kline asked the candidates which areas of the federal government they would cut if elected.
Mr. Ferguson said he believes the federal government should not fund the National Endowment on the Arts and should eliminate the Commerce Department.
Mr. Gardner would like to look at all federal programs, especially in the education department where he would like to erase regulations, thus returning control back to the states.
Mr. Kean said he supports incentives for segments of government to create surpluses as well “slashing” aspects of the Commerce and other federal departments.
Mr. Morrisey favors merging the Energy Department into the Department of Defense. He said the mission and goals of all federal agencies needs to be evaluated to see if they are necessary.
Cutting taxes will lead to “streamlining” of federal government. Ms. Walsh said each department needs to justify all of its employees to ensure the jobs are truly necessary.
Mr. Weingarten, who as Essex County budget director worked to produce the largest budget cut in Essex County and state history, believes cross subsidization through the Agriculture Department is hurting family farmers and should be ended.
He also favors placing nuclear programs into the Defense Department and than eliminating the Department of Energy. In the Welfare Department, he said, the practice of cross subsidization of industry should be ended.
The Union County GOP organization will hold its convention Saturday, April 1, at which time the county committee will select Congressional and Freeholder candidates to run on the county line.
Paul J. Peyton for The Westfield Leader and The Times RAISING A POINT... Congressional candidate Eric Urbano of Scotch Plains, standing, makes a point during last Wednesday’s joint forum of GOP Seventh Congressional District candidates held in Scotch Plains. Pictured, left to right, are: Tom Kean, Jr., Patrick Morrisey, Mr. Urbano, Green Brook Mayor Patricia Walsh and Assemblyman Joel Weingarten of Millburn.
Covering Fanwood, Mountainside, Scotch Plains and Westfield, Union County, New Jersey (NJ)