Some people may think I’m a little crazy,” said David Dranikoff, a Livingston man who is seeking to replace Robert Menendez as United States senator from New Jersey.
Appearing on the ballot as an independent without significant backing, Dranikoff hopes to draw attention to what he considers a crippling national debt.
His candidacy is a statement “about the future of my children and my grandchildren,” said Dranikoff, principal in a wholesale auto parts dealer. “What is happening in Washington is at best dishonest. At worst it is very dangerous.”
Over lunch at an Italian restaurant in Whippany, Dranikoff told NJ Jewish News that some of those who may have teasingly questioned his sanity have also told him, “‘It is a worthwhile thing you are doing. Good luck.’
“They are smart people who know my chances of victory are not great, but I think they respect the effort.”
Dranikoff has collected more than the 800 signatures he needed to get his name on the Nov. 6 ballot, where he is listed as the ninth of 11 candidates for senator.
He is spending $5,000 of his own funds to advance his candidacy in what he calls “a consciousness-raising effort,” even while conceding, “I know I can’t win.”
The latest Inquirer New Jersey Poll showed the Democrat Menendez running 50 percent to 32 percent ahead of Republican State Sen. Joe Kyrillos of Middletown.
For 30 years, Dranikoff has been an active volunteer in the Jewish community. Between 1990 and 2012 he served as a board member of what is now the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ. He chaired the Legow Family Israel Program Center from 2005 to 2008 and, since 2010, he has been chair of the Israel and World Affairs Committee of the Community Relations Committee of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Dranikoff said he has “no argument with Menendez on his support of Israel.”
Still, he faults the senator for not adequately representing the people of New Jersey.
“The state of New Jersey has the third-highest revenue stream for the Internal Revenue Service,” he told NJJN. “It sends more money to the federal government than 47 other states. New Jersey receives 61 cents back on every dollar it sends, while New Mexico receives $2.50. For the last 30 years, the State of New Jersey has been dead last — D-E-A-D — in getting support from the federal government.
“The senators are not bringing home more money for Paterson or cleaning up the Passaic River or our coastline or helping Camden, which is a mess,” Dranikoff said.
He also said that neither Menendez nor Kyrillos has a plan to deal with college loan debts.
“These kids are the best hope for our future, and they are going to be in debt for 20 or 30 years,” he said. “How do we sit by and say, ‘We are not going to do anything about this’?”
A former registered Democrat turned independent, Dranikoff said he is not supporting anyone for president.
“I like the fact that Romney is a fiscal conservative who understands business, and I don’t think the president has a clue,” he said. “But I am also a liberal-minded person who thinks women’s rights are terribly important, and I don’t think that Mitt Romney is going to support women’s rights. I would like to see alternative energy and he is ‘Drill, baby, drill.’ He wants to go back to coal.
“I can’t support either one of them.”
Even as he works full-time, Dranikoff is heavily engaged in local politics.
“I go to street fairs. I go to tailgate parties at football games to deliver my message. I ask people, ‘Are you fed up with Washington?’ and it’s not 90 percent — it’s 95 or 96 percent who say, ‘Are you kidding? Of course.’”
Dranikoff grew up in Brooklyn and Syosset, Long Island, and graduated from C.W. Post College with a degree in chemistry. He and his wife, Lois, have a son, Lee, who lives in Millburn, and a daughter, Audra, who lives in Short Hills. “I am pretty sure I am getting their votes,” he said.
Although he concedes it is “a pipe dream, I’d like to get 50,000 votes. It has never been done before by an independent.”