Ever since he first ran for New Jersey’s Fifth District House seat in 2002, Republican Scott Garrett has been unbeatable, defeating his Democratic opponents by wide margins. The Wantage congressman represents an area in northern New Jersey that encompasses Bergen and parts of Sussex, Warren, and Passaic counties.
The first time he ran, Garrett received 59 percent of the vote, with 38 percent for his first rival, Anne Sumers. His 2006 opponent, Paul Aronsohn, fared best, winning 44 percent of the vote.
Now, in 2016, Democrat Josh Gottheimer, 41, an attorney from Wyckoff, thinks he can stop Garrett’s winning streak.
“It is just pretty clear that people want and are looking for change, and I think they’re eager to have somebody who is going to be a problem-solver for them and someone who is going to work hard for our district and our community and focus on the issues I’m focused on.”
Listing those issues — “lower taxes, bringing Jersey values to the community and treating everyone with respect, standing by law enforcement, fighting lone wolf terrorists, fighting for equal pay for women” — he said, “I just think it’s the issue and the approach of someone who is willing to reach across the aisle to get things done for the community.”
In an Aug. 2 phone interview, Gottheimer launched a barrage of criticism against his opponent, labeling him a right-wing “extremist” and a “Tea Party member even before there was a Tea Party.”
“I think you win this race with my record versus his record, his Tea Party extremism versus my moderate approach,” said Gottheimer. “I want to work with Democrats, Republicans, and independents. He wants to get in deeper with his extremist Tea Party friends. That’s what these elections are about. People are starting to find out about his record. He can’t hide anymore. People are starting to realize just how out of step he is and how out of touch he is with the values we believe in here in our district.”
Gottheimer claims his opponent’s views and voting record have alienated once-loyal supporters. “Most of his traditional donors have walked away from him. He is getting a lot of Tea Party money and big money from the National Rifle Association and the right-to-life community. That is his base. He is anti-choice even in cases of rape and incest. Last year he voted 13 times against preventing terrorists from buying assault weapons.”
Gottheimer also accused Garrett of being “weak on terror” and boasted that he — not Garrett — has the endorsement of the state’s Police Benevolent Association, the first NJ Democrat ever to get the PBA’s backing.
That announcement came at the Paramus police headquarters on June 20, when police union president Patrick Colligan said that his members had voted unanimously to endorse Gottheimer.
According to a June 20 press release from the Gottheimer campaign, Colligan said, “As disappointing as it was that Scott Garrett voted 12 times against putting more police officers on our streets, it was simply unconscionable that he voted against health care for law enforcement and first responders in the wake of the horrific September 11th attack. Quite simply, there is no excuse.”
Gottheimer is also critical of Garrett’s statement in 2015 that gays and lesbians should not be allowed to run for Congress.
“He has got a very long record of bigotry and sexism. It’s not just that he is anti-gay. He is anti-women,” said Gottheimer, pointing to his opponent’s opposition to family leave, to equal pay for equal work, and to subsidizing mammograms not covered under health care. “He is consistently against these things,” he said.
“Unfortunately for him, people in our district are finding out that people like me who are fiscally conservative and socially progressive” offer an alternative. “We are moderates who think the government should stay out of certain things but believe deeply in certain values,” said Gottheimer.
“I think people are realizing that he does not make sense for our community.”
Without criticizing Garrett’s record on the subject, Gottheimer — a member of the Reform Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes — boasted that he is “a huge supporter of Israel. It is one thing I think that is critical to what my role is going to be in Congress, which is to ensure and preserve the historical relationship with Israel. We need to ensure that Israel has the latest weaponry to fight any threats, and it is critically important that we keep an eye on the Iran deal, which I came out against.”
Gottheimer grew up in North Caldwell and graduated from West Essex High School. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, became a Thouron Fellow at Oxford University, and went on to Harvard Law School. He and his wife, Marla, a former federal prosecutor, have two young children.