New Jersey’s lieutenant governor said that a cost-cutting restructuring of the New Jersey-Israel Commission will actually raise its image and outreach.
In an April 26 phone interview with NJJN, Kim Guadagno defended a decision by the Christie administration to move the commission from the Department of State to a newly created public-private agency, headed by Guadagno, called NJ Partnership for Action.
The move also eliminated the commission’s executive director position.
“The governor has raised the profile of the New Jersey-Israel Commission by bringing it over to the lieutenant governor’s office,” said Guadagno.
“Sometimes change is uncomfortable,” she acknowledged, referring to the concerns of some state Jewish leaders that the move would hinder the commission’s role in encouraging business and cultural ties between New Jersey and Israel.
But, Guadagno said, meetings between state officials and commission members are taking place and she expected both sides would “learn about each other a little better.”
“We want them to understand the governor’s mission is to increase jobs throughout New Jersey through the New Jersey-Israel Commission,” she added.
Guadagno spoke to NJJN following an appearance the evening before at the annual Hand in Hand Dinner of the Chabad of the Shore, held at the Two River Theater in Red Bank. The program matches teen volunteers with autistic and other special needs children.
In the interview, Guadagno spoke on a range of subjects, including the governor’s austerity budget, the role of faith-based philanthropies, and the Christie administration’s relations with the Jewish community.
“One of the things you will see from the governor and from me as lieutenant governor is for us to be open and inclusive of the Jewish community, the Arab community, the African-American community, and whoever else,” said Guadagno, adding that she believed the relationship between the Jewish community and the Christie administration “would be better than with any of the last several” administrations.
Asked about the impact of cuts to social service programs and initiatives administered by the Jewish community, she declined to discuss specifics.
However, she said, hard decisions were necessary in light of the massive budget deficit facing the state.
“We had to make tough economic choices,” she said. “We had to close a budget shortfall of $13 billion in 60 days and we had meeting after meeting and made some tough choices. One thing we knew we couldn’t do was raise taxes.”
‘A listening ear’
Guadagno cited the large number of school budgets that were defeated in recent elections. That sent “school boards and municipalities a message that they have to learn to live within their means,” she said. “They have to learn to distinguish between what they want and what they need.”
However, she said, she believes the Jewish community is better positioned than many to handle social service issues without relying on government funding because it already meets so many of its own needs. She cited an organization in Lakewood she visited during the campaign that runs an after-school program for special-needs youngsters that is privately funded by the town’s fervently Orthodox Jewish community.
Such programs, said Guadagno, are “neither unique nor uncommon” in the Jewish community.
As an example, Guadagno, who formerly served as Monmouth County sheriff, praised Chabad of the Shore’s Hand in Hand program.
“That is just an amazing program,” she said. “We need to step up to the plate to help children who can’t help themselves to help our community be better and our world be better.”
Rabbi Laibel Schapiro of the Chabad of the Shore, who is chaplain for the Monmouth sheriff’s department, said Guadagno has a history of sensitivity to Jewish needs.
“She always has had a listening ear,” he said. “She made sure Jewish inmates got what they needed — kosher meals, holidays. She was in constant contact with me.”