The two candidates vying for the District 7 seat in Congress crossed swords the morning of Oct. 26, but not directly.
Republican incumbent Leonard Lance and challenger Ed Potosnak came to the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains to meet with members of the Jewish community, but — as arranged — Potosnak, a Democrat, came after his opponent had left the building.
Both stated unequivocal support for Israel and firm determination to oppose Iran’s march toward nuclear-weapons capability. They disagreed on nuclear energy, job creation, and earmarks.
The event was hosted by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. Since the district includes parts of Middlesex, Somerset, and Hunterdon counties as well as Union, the lay and professional leaders from the Central area were joined by others, from United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ and the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.
Scattered among those with titles in the community were a few people who simply described themselves as taxpayers, a label that drew a chorus of support.
The candidates were introduced by Gordon Haas and Ken Rotter, the cochairs of the Central federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council. Each gave a brief summary of his position and then took questions from the 35 or so people in the audience.
Lance, who is seeking his second term in Washington, listed the measures he has cosponsored and supported endorsing Israel’s right to defend itself and those calling for sanctions against Iran. While not criticizing the Obama administration’s handling of those issues, he did blame the White House for delaying implementation of the sanctions bill.
If his party wins back control of Congress, he said, it would act “as vigorously or more vigorously on sanctions against Iran.” He stated with repeated, deliberate emphasis, “No option should be taken off the table.”
Potosnak, a teacher and the owner of a home-improvement business, uttered the same line in passing, but his opposition to nuclear weapons also had a broader context, one that brought him into contrast with Lance. Where the incumbent said he supported the development of nuclear power as an energy source in this country, Potosnak — whose academic training is in science — said he absolutely opposes it.
In the process of producing energy, there is always waste material left over, and it can be used to make “dirty bombs,” he said. “When we promote the use of nuclear power, we provide cover for other countries to use it for their energy programs, and that can end up hurting us.”
The Democrat also criticized the White House, but for making its internal arguments public, thus showing a divided front in its approach to the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. “It’s really important that we maintain a strong, united front,” he said.
Lance stressed that he was speaking only about himself, implying that he was avoiding negative campaigning. He emphasized his record, and his desire to see a more collaborative approach in Congress.
Potosnak, on the other hand, took aim at his rival, painting Lance as a third-generation career politician with no real-world experience.
Both men acknowledged that the economy is issue number one. Asked what he would do to prevent jobs from leaving this country, Lance suggested that the United States should push for some higher environmental standards in the countries gaining those jobs, a factor that would push up their production costs.
Potosnak said that Lance, in his almost two years in Congress, had spoken for just 59 seconds on the subject of job creation. Calling himself the child of parents who owned a business that manufactures batteries and as an owner of a small business himself, Potosnak said, “I know how to create jobs and I know that small businesses are the engine of our economy.” He said he would strive to improve their access to loans, and increase funding for research and development.
Both expressed respect for nonprofit organizations like the Jewish federations, but differed in their remarks on earmarks, the controversial attachments to federal spending bills.
Lance went to Washington with a commitment to oppose earmarks, but nevertheless he did help procure funding for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, a program championed by the federations and, in some cases, maintained by affiliated agencies. Lance said that given the Republican opposition to earmarks, if the party gains control in the elections, an alternative approach would be needed to fund NORCs.
Potosnak stated up front that he believes earmarks serve a useful function, and that he would support their appropriate use. He pointed out that New Jersey is one of the top contributors to federal coffers, but ranks 50th in “what we bring back.” He pledged, if elected, to bring back a whole lot more to the state, acting not on political expediency but on the advice of a commission composed of regular citizens.