Re-districting will likely cost the current congressional seat of the state’s only Jewish member of the House.
In move already shaking up the state’s Democratic politics, Rep. Steve Rothman (Dist. 9) will run against fellow Democrat Rep. Bill Pascrell (Dist. 8) in the June primary.
In a plan chosen last week by New Jersey’s redistricting commission, Democrat Steve Rothman (Dist. 9) would have needed to run in a reconfigured district currently held by Republican Scott Garrett (Dist. 5) in a portion of the state considered a GOP stronghold.
Some 80 percent of the new Fifth District is currently represented by Garrett.
“Aside from the fact that the district is more Republican — favoring Garrett — Rothman would have a much tougher road to win because he would have to introduce himself to 80 percent of the new district,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville.
And Garrett’s gain of Teaneck — which has provided strong Jewish and African-American support for Rothman in past elections — is a “huge blow” to the Democrats’ power base, said Dworkin.
The new district lines were drawn by a special 13-member commission made up of six Democrats and six Republicans, with political independent John Farmer serving as its chair.
Farmer, the dean of Rutgers Law School, cast the tie-breaking vote on Dec. 23 to side with the Republicans.
A pleased Garrett — a staunch conservative — said in a press release that “some of the district’s lines may have changed, but my commitment to working to protect the family budget continues. I look forward to continuing my work to create jobs, decrease taxes, and rein in wasteful spending.”
Rothman is a consistent liberal.
“Lines on a map do not change the need to continue the fight to expand opportunity for all Americans; get our economy back on track; protect middle class taxpayers, seniors and families; stop those who would end Social Security and Medicare; and to keep our beloved nation safe,” he wrote in an e-mail to NJ Jewish News just hours after the new district lines were announced. “I look forward to continuing the fight for these values.”
On Tuesday, various reports said Rothman will move from Fair Lawn to Englewood to challenge Pascrell in the reconfigured Ninth.
“A majority of people in the new Ninth District are currently represented by Rothman, so he would have an easier time in an election since most people would already know who he is,” said Dworkin in an e-mail interview. However, “a primary battle between Rothman and Pascrell would be a huge fight, costing millions of dollars each, and dividing the Democrats on the eve of a critical 2012 election.
“Then again, these kinds of fights are typical following redistricting.”
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.
The bitter battle over district lines began after the 2010 census. A decline in New Jersey’s population necessitated reducing the state’s congressional seats from 13 to 12.
Farmer announced the settlement on Dec. 23 at a New Brunswick hotel, explaining that he had sided with the Republicans to “preserve competitiveness, continuity of communities, and the notion of one person, one vote.”
In another move also considered favorable to the GOP, the commissioners voted to remove the heavily Democratic town of Cherry Hill from the state’s Third District, which is currently represented by Republican Jon Runyan.
“I think it’s fair to say I have exasperated all my colleagues at this table,” Farmer said. “I think the process largely worked.”
NOTE: This article has been updated to reflect information received after the deadline of the print edition of NJJN.