Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Dist. 6) fielded just the kinds of questions one would expect a politician to get from constituents during the closing weeks of a presidential election campaign.
He was asked about the state of the economy, the use of green energy, and the threat of a nuclear Iran.
However, in this case, those asking the questions were actually too young to cast ballots in the Nov. 6 election — they were students at Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison.
Pallone was invited Oct. 10 to speak to fourth- and eighth-graders about the role of Congress and the importance of public service. But he spent most of his time in the school answering questions put to him in his meetings with the students. Joining the congressman were the mayors of Edison and Highland Park, Antonia Ricigliano and Gary Minkoff.
In between the sessions, Pallone also met with three seventh-grade girls who had won an environmental essay contest sponsored by the Middlesex County Department of Public Safety and Health. The students, Michal Shechter, Ali Reich, and Mikayla Elk — all of East Brunswick — outlined for the legislator their ideas for preserving the environment.
Pallone said he was impressed with the three students’ commitment to doing their part to better their society.
“I like that you look at it from an individual point of view,” he told them. “You say what you are going to do in your everyday lives…. It’s not just something being done in Washington.”
While older students asked questions on where Pallone stood on the Obama admiration’s policies on such issues as the Iranian nuclear threat, younger students seemed to be more interested in what Pallone’s hobbies are (he is a history buff whose office is filled with old photos of the towns he represents) or if he travels a lot.
Pallone explained that when Congress is in session he spends Tuesday through Thursday in Washington, the time when votes are usually taken, then returns to his district. While he has not been overseas in a while, when he does travel, Pallone said, it was to places where many of his constituents have ties, such as India.
“I’ve also been to Israel three or four times,” he said.
He told the youngsters that because he is from Elberon in Monmouth County, home to a large Jewish population, and represents other communities with many Jews, he has developed a respect for Judaism and the high value it places on education and scholarship.
In answer to another question, the congressman told a student he had held his seat for 24 years and enjoyed what he was doing, although, he said, the workdays can be long.
“We left at eight this morning and tonight we won’t get home until 11,” said Pallone. “But like everything in life, if you like it you don’t think it’s hard.”
Responding to more pointed queries from eighth-graders, Pallone said one of the most important matters Congress would take up after the election was whether to extend the deadline for a deficit reduction bill signed into law by former President George W. Bush that would implement across-the-board cuts in government spending on Jan. 1.
In answer to another question about the use of “green” energy, he said, “We have to achieve energy independence. We are too dependent on countries that are not supportive of the U.S.”
Pallone said he disagreed with GOP presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney and the Republicans on repealing tax breaks for the implementation of green energy measures, like solar panels.
“If these tax cuts are eliminated, I think it will hurt the green energy industry,” he said.
When asked, Pallone said he agreed with President Barack Obama’s economic policies, conforming to the Democratic stance that government must get involved with the recovery rather than the Republicans’ approach of leaving it to the private sector.
Pallone, who described himself as “a big supporter of Israel,” said he was concerned about the Iranian threat, and supports the Obama administration’s policy of exhausting all peaceful options before taking military action “as a last resort.”
RPRY principal Shraga Gross said, “Our students love to learn and I am very proud of the questions they asked today.”
Students were also excited about meeting Pallone.
Fourth-grader Rafi Kornfeld of Highland Park said, “I liked the way he is all for the Jewish community because he lives by the Jewish community and likes it.”
Yonit Salit, a fourth-grader from Highland Park, said, “I learned lots of things that a congressman does that I didn’t know before.”
And eighth-grader Ariella Perlman of East Brunswick said that after learning about what a member of Congress does, she may consider becoming a politician herself.
For his part, Pallone said he left the school “feeling inspired and hopeful that our community and nation are in the hands of such capable and insightful future leaders.”