Local politics was served along with cinnamon and fruit pastries at White Meadow Temple on Sunday, Oct. 18.
Daniel Kurtzer, former United States ambassador to Israel, served as a surrogate for Democrat Gov. Jon Corzine at what had been planned as a forum for the top contenders in the New Jersey gubernatorial race. Representing Chris Christie was Morris County Freeholder John Murphy, who made an impromptu decision to stand in for the Republican candidate.
About 30 people came to hear the speakers, who included Wharton Mayor Bill Chegwiddan, Morris County Freeholders director Gene Feyl, and David Press, who holds the Fifth Ward seat in the Rockaway Township town council. They covered everything from taxes and economic development, to a PSEG biomass plant and controlling government corruption.
According to event organizer Eric Balis, president of the Rockaway synagogue’s men’s club, Christie’s campaign had been invited to take part but hadn’t sent a representative. Balis, a registered Republican, was disappointed.
“It sends the wrong message,” said Balis. “It doesn’t bode well.”
Balis had invited Independent Chris Daggett to participate as well; due to a mix-up in dates, a representative was unavailable, Balis said.
Kurtzer questioned the practicality of some of Christie’s promises in a strained economy.
“It’s easy to come before voters and say, ‘I’m going to lower taxes and provide more services,’” said Kurtzer. He praised Corzine for his work on behalf of education, the environment, health care, and economic recovery — namely, that New Jersey was among the first states to receive money from the economic stimulus package to the tune of $17.4 billion.
‘It’s about jobs’
Kurtzer also focused on Corzine’s efforts on behalf of Israel and the local Jewish community, including his support for the New Jersey-Israel Commission, which Kurtzer chairs. The commission, established in 1989 but made a part of New Jersey’s Department of State under Corzine, encourages economic cooperation between New Jersey and Israel.
The commission “is not just putting our own support behind Israel when others are divesting, but it’s also very practical,” said Kurtzer, the S. Daniel Abraham Chair in Middle East Policy Studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “And Democratic governors have taken $65 million in state pension funds and invested it in Israel Bonds. Republicans? Zero. Corzine just signed onto another $35 million, knowing the investment would be safe and will make pension funds good in the future. The governor has been a real, real friend to the Jewish community and to the State of Israel.”
Murphy acknowledged Corzine’s love for Israel and called him “an awfully, awfully nice man,” even “a real leader,” but the Republican stressed the importance of economic development.
“There’s a perception by the business community that the State of New Jersey is not open for business,” he said. He cited a local company that wanted to add manufacturing jobs to New Jersey through a joint venture. The owner “couldn’t get Corzine’s people to even talk about expanding,” Murphy said. The unnamed company, located in Morris County, he said, opened its plant in Pennsylvania.
And he pointed to a recent meeting he had with representatives of such NJ businesses as Atlantic Health System, St. Clare’s Hospital, Honeywell, and Alcoa. “Every single one — all large employers of New Jersey — felt that the state government, at least in the last eight years, has not gotten that it’s about jobs. Corzine…may be a really nice man, and I believe he is; he may be a friend to your community, but he is not a friend to the business community. And frankly, folks, that’s where the rubber meets the road.”
Murphy also praised Independent candidate Chris Daggett, suggesting that with more time, he might prove the victor.
“If we had another six months in this race, it could be really, really interesting. Daggett has captured the imagination of people; he’s captured the frustration most of us have,” he said. “What he’s done, boy, he’s shaken it up. If the Republicans and the Democrats don’t get it together, the two main parties in the next eight-10 years may not be the major players they have been,” Murphy said.
He criticized every past administration, Democrat and Republican, going back to Christine Todd Whitman. “I struggle with $14,000 in property taxes. I struggle to pay my bills and raise four kids. That’s what Daggett is capitalizing on.”