Accusations fly in rancorous Dist. 5 congressional debate

Accusations fly in rancorous Dist. 5 congressional debate

Incumbent Garrett and challenger Gottheimer clash on Iran, taxes, other issues

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Dist. 5), left, and his Democratic challenger,  Josh Gottheimer, appear for their one and only debate Oct. 31 at radio station WRNJ in Hackettstown.
Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Dist. 5), left, and his Democratic challenger,  Josh Gottheimer, appear for their one and only debate Oct. 31 at radio station WRNJ in Hackettstown.

“My opponent was silent — yes, silent, silent, silent — for months when the Iran deal was going through,” according to veteran congressman Scott Garrett (R-Dist. 5), speaking of Josh Gottheimer, the Democrat running against Garrett in the upcoming election for his seat in the House of Representatives. 

Gottheimer countered that he was against the Iran deal “very early on.”

“No you weren’t,” responded Garrett. “You came out with an op-ed finally one month after the bill passed. By that time, Josh, it was too late. Maybe I’m an unskilled liar but you proved your ability to do it quite well.”

It was one of many bitter encounters in the first and only debate between the two men, which took place during a rancorous debate on radio station WRNJ. Though both Garrett and Gottheimer bill themselves as strong supporters of Israel and opponents of the multinational agreement aimed at halting Iran’s nuclear weapons development, the two men clashed over that issue and several others in the AM station’s tiny studio in Hackettstown on Oct. 31. 

The series of fiery arguments began with Gottheimer’s opening remarks, in which he labelled Garrett — who was first elected to the House in 2002 — as “one of the most radical members of Congress” and accused the congressman of being “anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-vet, and anti-law enforcement.” He also criticized Garrett for opposing the Violence Against Women Act and equal pay for women.

In turn, Garrett characterized his opponent as “just another tax and spend liberal” who wants to continue “the same failed foreign policies as President [Barack] Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton” and who, he said, is “bought and paid for by outside interests.”

Although both men have said they are committed to reducing federal taxes, Gottheimer said Garrett has failed to fight “to bring more dollars back to the State of New Jersey. You won’t fight for us and you won’t help us,” he said to his opponent.

Gottheimer alleged that Garrett prioritizes his own interests ahead of the state he represents, saying that the congressman “had no problem going on fancy junkets” and voting to earmark $1 million for the infamous “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska and $700,000 for a water park in Texas. “You talk out of both sides of your mouth and people are sick and tired of it,” Gottheimer said. 

In response, Garrett said Gottheimer’s campaign was being funded by special interests, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and he accused his rival of using “rhetoric and smear and hateful terms.”

Minutes later, Garrett struck again, accusing his opponent, as he has before, of neglecting to pay his property taxes for a condominium he owns in Washington, DC, over the past six years. 

“Pay your taxes, Josh,” Garrett said. 

Records indicate that Gottheimer paid taxes on the property for three of the six years, and his campaign has said that a review by the Washington, DC, Office of Tax and Revenue found that this was a result of an error on the part of the mortgage company. Once the mistake was found, the campaign has the remaining taxes and penalties were paid immediately.

“Here he goes again, saying that I didn’t pay my taxes,” Gottheimer retorted. “Call the tax office, Scott. You’ll find I have paid all my taxes.”

Sticking with this line of attack, Garrett said, “My opponent did finally pay his taxes after six years,” but only when he decided to run for Congress. “Thank you, Josh, for finally paying your taxes,” he added dryly.

The debate took a particularly personal tone when Garrett was asked by New Jersey Herald columnist Rob Jennings whether he had refused to support gay Republican candidates for office. Jennings was referring to a damaging report from last year that the congressman had told a fellow Republican wouldn’t contribute to funding for gay GOP candidates running for office.

“I believe everyone has the right to run for office,” Garrett replied, and said that Gottheimer has “distorted and name-called” his record.

Said Gottheimer, “How we treat gay people and how we treat women and how we treat everyone is actually an issue. Like most people, I was incredibly upset by Congressman Garrett’s statements. I think people have a right to know if their congressman is a bigot.” 

Garrett’s alleged hatred of gay people, Gottheimer said, “is offensive and not the kind of future I want for our families.”

The congressman retaliated by saying Gottheimer used $10 million to put up billboards “saying nasty things you know are untrue…. You are making things up once again.”

“Stop calling me a liar,” said Gottheimer. “I know your bigoted record is unfortunate for you. Your back is up against the wall. But please don’t lie to the voters.” 

He charged that Garrett, by voting against the Zadroga Act, a 2011 law that allocated $3.2 billion to compensate victims and provide health care for those who worked at the 9/11 World Trade Center attack site, “has not been there” for first responders. The bill was renewed in 2015 with another $4.5 billion. 

“I want to stand up and say we support our first responders and our law enforcement community,” said Garrett, denying that he opposed the measure. According to the federal government website, Garrett did, in fact, vote against both bills. 

With regard to the presidential election Garrett said he is supporting his party’s nominee, Donald Trump — and everyone else on the Republican ticket — despite finding some of Trump’s statements “outrageous and outlandish.”

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