Aside from some predictable divisions on taxes and program funding, politicians gathered for a Jewish-sponsored breakfast expressed the kind of bipartisan agreement the public can only dream about most of the time.
As Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Dist. 27) pointed out, “There are philosophical differences between the parties,” but all the speakers expressed concern for the most vulnerable, and a number acknowledged, as he did, a need for “shared sacrifice.”
Eighteen state lawmakers attended the CRC legislative breakfast June 1 at the Leon & Toby Cooperman JCC in West Orange. The agenda was set by the host, the Community Relations Committee of MetroWest and Central NJ.
It included Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, restoration of funding for Medicaid reimbursements, and measures to help seniors, including aging-in-place programs and transportation.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for the Jewish community to meet with state legislators,” said Essex County Freeholder Vice President Pat Sebold. Sebold, the county’s only Jewish legislator above the municipal level, is also a member of the boards of trustees of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ and the Jewish Community Housing Corporation.
Janice Schindler and Ken Rotter chaired the event, which was organized by CRC director Melanie Roth Gorelick. The politicians included members of the NJ Senate and Assembly. Also present were Carolyn Fefferman, aide to U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Gina Diorio, aide to U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Dist. 5).
Opening the event, Rotter said seven members of Congress — more than half the state’s total — are included in the areas represented by the CRC, along with 42 state elected officials from 14 districts.
When the planned merger between UJC MetroWest and the Jewish Federation of Central NJ goes ahead on July 1, he said, the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ will cover an area with about 126,000 Jews. It will be the largest Jewish philanthropic organization in the state and the largest suburban Jewish federation in North America, raising around $25 million a year. Those funds will help support 24 agencies.
“We believe that it is particularly important that we engage with policy makers at the state level as budget cuts at both the national and state levels will significantly reduce or eliminate many programs of great importance to the Jewish community,” added outgoing CRC chair David Lentz. “We want to ensure that we do all we can to safeguard essential human services and the strong U.S.-Israel relationship.”
The breakfast was the second event of its kind.
On Iran, according to a position paper distributed to the participants, the CRC urged support for “swift enactment” of a bill “that prohibits state and local public contracts with persons or entities engaging in certain investment activities in Iran’s energy, finance or construction sectors.” (See related story, page 18.)
The politicians who rose to speak on the issue expressed equal and unequivocal support for the actions against Iran.
Predicting problems ahead on the Medicaid issue, State Sen. Barbara Buono (D-Dist. 8) said, “A budget is more than dollars and cents; it’s about priorities and values.” She suggested she might be in the minority in taking this position, but stated, “Revenues that are coming in don’t support any kind of tax cuts.”
At the end of the meeting, the politicians were able to mention briefly their top priorities.
Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Dist. 21), a nurse herself, highlighted legislation that will allow registered nurses to take on more responsibilities, thereby helping to provide care where there is a shortage of doctors. She also mentioned a bill providing for mandatory 25-year imprisonment of anyone convicted of raping a victim under the age of 13. “Why not take the lead on this?” she asked.
Assemblyman Albert Countinho (D-Dist. 29) focused on education and the need to provide financial support for higher education. New Jersey, he said, has the lowest number of available higher education spaces in the country. “We can’t afford not to invest in education,” he said.
But Republican Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (Dist. 21) said that, while he agrees with that, high tax rates in the state have “chased people away,” and that exodus, he said, has cost the state a congressional district.
Other participants included state Senators Nia Gill (D-Dist. 34) and Teresa Ruiz (D-Dist. 29) and Assembly members John Bramnick (R-Dist. 21) and Thomas Giblin (D-Dist. 34). Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Dist. 27) was represented by a legislative aide.
Concluding the meeting, Gordon Haas, who is taking over from Lentz as CRC chair, said, “We look forward to Greater Metro West. We hope that ‘Greater’ will refer not only to a larger geography but also to the fact that we are ‘Greater’ in helping the most needy in New Jersey, and that when people think of the Greater MetroWest Jewish community they will know that we stand for caring, human rights, and making a difference for not only our own ‘Greater’ community but the entire world at large.”