Even as they agreed on strong support of Israel and opposition to Iranian nuclear weapons, three local congressional candidates differed on solutions to domestic issues in separate presentations Oct. 28.
The candidates appeared sequentially at a forum sponsored by the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, held at the Aidekman campus in Whippany.
Livingston businessman Marc Dunec, a Democrat challenging nine-term Republican incumbent Rodney Frelinghuysen in the 11th Congressional District, appeared without a response from his opponent.
(In an Oct. 6 letter, Frelinghuysen wrote CRC director Melanie Roth Gorelick that although he “meets with Jewish leadership on a regular basis,” he was “booked” for another appointment that conflicted with the political forum.)
Dunec, who serves on the board of the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston and is a former national council member of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said he was running “primarily because of the gridlock in Washington…. I am running to restore fiscal responsibility, social discourse, and sanity to Congress. We need to focus on the real issues of the day, which are growing the economy, encouraging investment, and getting people back to work.”
He described himself as a “champion of women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, and religious freedoms. I believe in universal background checks on all firearm purchases, public or private. That is why I am a Democrat. But I am a fiscal conservative, and my goal is to work on the House Budget Committee alongside Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.),” who ran unsuccessfully for vice president in 2012.
Following Dunec was Janice Kovach, the Democrat who is challenging three-term incumbent Republican Leonard Lance in District 7.
Boasting skills as a mayor and political pragmatist who supervises an all-Republican council in her hometown of Clinton, Kovach told 25 CRC members her municipality “was nearly bankrupt when I took over in 2012.”
The council members’ goal, she recalled, “was to make sure nothing got done.”
But after convincing them to work collaboratively, “we plugged the holes where we were bleeding money and put infrastructure plans in place,” she said.
Kovach said she supports raising the minimum wage. “I have many small businesses downtown that pay a livable wage because they understand that disposable wages can come back into our community,” she said. “But yet I have Wal-Mart up the street that is paying minimum wage, and that is not enough for people to survive on.”
Insisting that she was “not a proponent of war in any way, shape, or form,” Kovach promised to “take whatever steps that are necessary to protect this country and its allies.”
After greeting his opponent cordially outside the meeting room, Lance told the panel that whether or not his party takes control of the Senate after next week’s elections, “I hope that 2015 can be a year of governance and not of politics. I hope we can talk about how we can govern together in 2015 and let 2016 take care of itself.”
Speaking about tax policies, Lance said he wanted “retention of full deductibility of charitable contributions. I know that is essential to organizations like your own.” The CRC supports the charitable contribution deduction and the IRA Charitable Rollover.
Lance said he wanted “to preserve Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid” and would favor lengthening retirement age for younger generations.
He said he was “in a minority in my own party” in opposing the vote to shut down the government in September 2013.
Asked about cuts in Food Stamp programs, Lance said such allocations “had doubled under George Bush and doubled again under President Obama…. What I would like to see is having more Americans working, so we should move in that direction.”
The CRC supports bipartisan efforts to restore state and federal cuts to funding for SNAP, the federal food stamp program.
Questioned about raising the minimum wage, Lance said he “might be willing to look at the minimum wage differential as to whether it is for someone who is an adult as opposed to someone who is 16 years old. It is not clear to me that 16- and 17-year-olds necessarily should be paid the same amounts of money as someone who is working and trying to provide for a family…. I certainly do not want anyone to live in poverty who works full-time.”