An endorsement by a key member of Passaic County’s Orthodox Jewish community could give an edge to Rep. Steve Rothman (D-Dist. 9) in his upcoming primary battle against a fellow Democrat, Rep. Bill Pascrell.
Shortly after Rothman announced he would challenge Pascrell in a reconfigured District 9, Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Dist. 36) announced he would endorse the eight-term Rothman.
“On a number of issues I have been appreciative and supportive of Pascrell’s position, but I think Rothman’s track record has been a bit better, in terms of being able to bring needed dollars back to the district,” Schaer told NJJN.
Rather than run an uphill race against Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Dist. 5) in the newly drawn Dist. 5, Rothman opted to challenge Pascrell in the reconfigured Dist. 9, where he currently represents more voters than does Pascrell.
Rothman, who is Jewish, had previously won solid support in Teaneck and Englewood, both of which have large communities of observant Jews.
“Rothman’s Jewishness had nothing to do with my decision,” Schaer said, adding, “Although one could well argue that in terms of actual votes that Rothman and Pascrell are very similar in terms of Middle East issues. Nonetheless, Rothman’s position on Israel seems to be much more in keeping with that of the Jewish community’s thinking on the issue.”
Rothman and Pascrell both boast about strong records on Israel, although Pascrell, whose district includes Paterson’s large Arab-American community, has occasionally challenged measures supported by groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Both lawmakers have gained support from NORPAC, the pro-Israel political action committee based in Englewood.
Pascrell campaign spokesperson Sean Darcy defended his boss’s record.
Schaer himself, Darcy told NJJN, “has vouched for Congressman Pascrell in the Jewish community. He has been a strong supporter of Congressman Pascrell. I can’t speak to Assemblyman Schaer’s decision. I can only speak to Congressman Pascrell’s long history of fighting for all the people in his district.”
Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville, called Schaer’s announcement a “significant development.”
“Schaer’s influence in the Passaic-Clifton Jewish community may make this endorsement —and the resulting organizational strength that comes with it — a real game-changer in this primary fight,” he said in an e-mail interview.
Asked whether he believed his support of Rothman would have a strong influence on Orthodox Jewish voters in the new district, Schaer told NJJN, “Clearly one endorses for that reason. I am the highest-ranking elected official who is Orthodox in the state of New Jersey.”
Schaer estimated that there are 2,300 Orthodox voters in Passaic and Clifton, the “vast majority” of whom are independents.
But Pascrell’s spokesperson said it was “absolutely not fair to say” that Rothman has an electoral advantage in the newly drawn district. “Democratic voters are going to have a choice to make,” said Darcy. “Congressman Pascrell has a long record of fighting for the people in his district and a long record of fighting for things that are important to Democrats.”
NORPAC has raised tens of thousands of dollars for both men since they were first elected to the House in 1996.
NORPAC president Ben Chouake told NJJN that his members “have to discuss this internally.
“Between Rothman and Pascrell, Rothman is clearly an outstanding leader on our issue. Rothman has been engaged for years,” he said. “He is one of our original NORPAC members.”
Rothman first won election in 1996.
“I don’t know how popular Pascrell is among his own constituency,” Chouake said. “I think this will be a test.
“But Pascrell doesn’t have the 100 percent record on Israel that Rothman has.”
But, Darcy said, his candidate is not especially concerned about losing support of Jewish votes in his district. “Congressman Pascrell cares about every constituent — always has and always will.”