Rep. Steve Rothman, a veteran Jewish member of the U.S. House of Representatives, lost his Democratic primary election bid against another incumbent, Rep. Bill Pascrell.
Rothman, who has served District 9 in northeastern New Jersey since 1997, conceded late on election night, June 5. He said he would not run for political office in the foreseeable future.
Pascrell now faces celebrity author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who won the Republican nomination.
The decennial redrawing of New Jersey districts prompted Rothman to move in order to run in the redrawn District 9 against Pascrell, rather than face a popular Republican, Scott Garrett, in the Fifth District, where his old home is now located. Pascrell’s old district was the Eighth, but with the redrawing, his residence is now in the Ninth.
Rothman had hoped for a win because much of the redrawn Eighth covered his old Ninth District, with the notable exception of heavily Jewish Teaneck.
The race with Pascrell devolved into bitter exchanges, with Rothman seeking to stake out more liberal ground on issues like immigration and abortion.
Israel featured large in the race.
Pascrell refused to denounce some Arab-American activists who made an issue of Rothman’s pro-Israel record, and some Rothman surrogates accused Pascrell of not showing sufficient support for the state, as when, for instance, he signed a 2010 letter criticizing the blockade of the Gaza Strip by Egypt and Israel.
Meanwhile, Rothman's camp coordinated an effort by 15 Orthodox synagogues in Passaic to urge their members to switch party affiliation from Republican to Democrat and vote for Rothman in the primary. Similar efforts were undertaken by two Passaic city councilmen who are Orthodox and the pro-Israel NORPAC, which threw its weight beyond Rothman. A NORPAC spokesman said Pascrell “tries to cater to the Palestinian constituency and the Muslim constituency in his community.” Pascrell’s hometown of Paterson has a large Muslim population.
Rothman was seen as an important pro-Israel player because of his position on the armed services subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee.
He had helped pass increased funding for Israel’s missile defenses.
The National Jewish Democratic Council said it was “saddened” by Rothman’s loss.
“He has done a remarkable amount to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Israel and has been a leader on a number of domestic issues.” NJDC said in a statement. “We thank him for his 16 years of service to his country and constituents and wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors.
“We also congratulate Representative Bill Pascrell on tonight’s win, and we look forward to continuing to work together in the future.”
Newark’s Donald Payne Jr. won the Democratic nod in District 10 in a race to replace his late father. Payne, an Essex County freeholder and Newark City Council president, defeated fellow councilman Ron Rice, State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Dist. 34), Irvington Mayor Wayne Smith, and political newcomer Cathy Wright. The five candidates faced off in a debate May 23 at the Cooperman JCC in West Orange.