The audience had to be reminded to keep their views to themselves after booing Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Dist. 7) not once, but twice, at a Congressional Candidates Forum held Oct. 8 at the JCC of Central New Jersey. At the forum, sponsored by Jewish Federation of Greater Metro-
West NJ, both Lance and challenger Tom Malinowski, a Democrat, had an opportunity to present their views and respond to screened questions.
The booing first erupted during former federation president Steve Klinghoffer’s introduction of the congressman, when he mentioned Lance’s service on the House’s bi partisan Problem Solvers Caucus and its work on, among other things, “border security.”
The second round came as Lance took a dig at Malinowski’s political motivations, expressing his belief that the district is a moderate one, “not too far left or too far right,” adding, “I’ve lived here my entire life … I know it like the back of my hand. I didn’t move here last year to run.”
But the incumbent was also applauded after referencing the 47 town hall meetings he held this year, perhaps a swipe at Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Dist. 11), who has served in the House since 1994 and will be retiring at the end of the year. Frelinghuysen was heavily criticized in 2017 by constituents for a variety of reasons, including refusing to hold a town hall meeting.
On the other side, there was some audible chuckling when Malinowski was asked whether there was any misinformation that had spread during the campaign that he would like to clear up. The question was in reference to a Republican Super PAC ad in which the challenger was accused of “lobbying for terrorist rights” because he supported an anti-torture bill.
“Hmm. What do you mean?” he asked playfully.
Jennifer Rosenblatt of Short Hills brought her two sons, Sam, 14, and Eli, 12, to hear the candidate’s respective positions before the much-discussed mid-term elections on Nov. 8. She wanted to teach her children how to learn about the issues at stake — and how to access factual information. “They get most of their knowledge from Reddit and BuzzFeed,” she said.
The boys seemed excited to have the opportunity to hear from Lance and Malinowski. “As a future voter, I liked hearing the different views on the questions, and seeing how I can relate to that kind of stuff,” said Eli, who hopes to go into politics himself.
Like many in the audience, Rosenblatt came knowing “a fair amount” about both candidates, and said hearing them “reinforced” what she was already thinking. “I felt the person I thought I was going to vote for represents my family’s values and how we feel about a lot of issues, including Israel, but social issues are also very important to us.” To that end, she said, she wished there had been more questions on issues beyond Israel, notwithstanding its importance to her.
About 170 people attended the carefully scripted event, with no debate and no follow-up questions. Each candidate addressed the audience separately, with a break in between. They had approximately 10 minutes to present their views, followed by questions that had been previously provided to the candidates, along with several scripted questions from preselected audience members. The forum was moderated by federation community relations director Linda Scherzer and Rabbi David Levy, regional director of American Jewish Committee’s New Jersey office.
Both Lance and Malinowski responded to questions about Israel and rising anti-Semitism, as well as Medicare funding, gun violence, Planned Parenthood, and refugees.
Malinowski, who spent many years working for Human Rights Watch, an organization that has been accused of having a heavy bias against Israel, brought his mother to the forum and took pains to describe his family’s longstanding commitment to human rights, particularly during the Holocaust, when his grandfather, an attorney in Poland, took on “unpopular clients” in Poland in the 1930s.
“I think you can understand what I mean when I say, ‘unpopular clients.’” He added that growing up in such a family “shaped my attitudes,” and led him to believe that “America should be a country that does the right thing.” That, he said, was one reason he is running for Congress. “I feel right now that we are not doing that” in the areas of refugees, immigration, international diplomacy, even climate change. “We were the leaders of the free world. Now we are more laughing stock.”
Lance pitched himself as a moderate Republican, a politician able to reach across the aisle in bipartisan efforts, ranking as the 13th most bipartisan congressman, according to the Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy’s bipartisan index. Lance believes that such an open mindset will become increasingly important, predicting a very narrow majority of whichever party prevails in the House. It will be “narrower than now, and therefore that will heighten the influence of the Problem Solvers caucus,” he said. (The caucus is a bipartisan group focused on collaboration between both parties.)
Lance has a reputation for being a steadfast friend of Israel, and he noted his record of support for the Jewish state, including his position as co-chair of the House Republican Israel Caucus. He also pointed toward his role in passing the 21st Century Cures Act in his role on the Energy and Commerce Health Committee.
Arlene Klembow of Scotch Plains, who attended with her husband Mark Klembow and friend Laurie Woog, said, “I think it was a great opportunity to hear the candidates and really be clear where I want to give my support.” Like Rosenblatt and others interviewed after the forum, she came already knowing — though not sharing — who she plans to vote for, but she said, “I confirmed and solidified my point of view.”
Marjorie Leffler of Westfield, wearing a pink T-shirt which she said was to protest Lance’s stance on women’s reproductive health, thought the questions were “very soft.” She would have preferred more follow ups, more drilling down into candidates’ answers, and “pointed questions,” particularly regarding candidates’ records.
Another candidates’ forum will be held at the Alex Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany on Oct. 29 with senatorial candidates Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Republican challenger Bob Hugin.