State Senate president Stephen Sweeney (D-Dist. 3) sought the help of Jewish nonprofit leaders as New Jersey struggles with the impact of deep budget cuts.
“Because of the state’s brutal budgets we are going to need the Jewish federations’ help even more,” said Sweeney, speaking at the annual meeting of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations on July 8.
Sweeney ultimately supported what he has called a “doomsday” 2010 FY budget that includes deep cuts in various social services, calling it “the medicine New Jersey needs to survive the national economic onslaught.”
“We’ll get through this,” Sweeney said in his talk at the Jewish Federation of Central NJ on the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains, in response to a question about the cuts. “We’ve been through some bad economic times. But we did something important. We didn’t spend money that we didn’t have.”
He told association leaders that “groups like this need to lobby and keep the issues that are important to them in front of us. I’m telling you it’s easy to say ‘yes,’ but it is very hard when you have to say ‘no.’ Make sure we have a dialogue. Let us know the issues that are important. I’ll work on them with you.
“But I’ll never tell you something I don’t believe.”
Even though he has few Jewish constituents in his Gloucester County district, Sweeney assured Jewish leaders “it is so important for me to establish a relationship with a community that has done so much for New Jersey.”
Sweeney, who unseated Richard Codey of West Orange in 2009 to become the State Legislature’s most powerful leader, said he drove two hours from a part of the state “that’s almost in Delaware” to say thank you.
“This community has done so much for New Jersey, and New Jersey needs to recognize it and partner with it,” he said.
A construction worker and trade union leader, Sweeney said he was motivated to run for office after becoming the father of a girl with Down’s syndrome and discovering there were inadequate public resources for people with special needs.
“The disabled community has the strongest advocate they could possibly have in the Senate right now,” he proclaimed as he promised to be an advocate for Jewish concerns as well.
“I pledge to stand with you and with Israel. Israel has been a country under siege from its inception, and we don’t have a better partner in the United States than Israel. I would like to go to see Israel and learn more about it.”
Following Sweeney to the podium was Benjamin Krasna, who is soon to depart from his post as Israel’s deputy consul general in New York.
Krasna spoke of the July 6 White House meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and acknowledged Sweeney’s support for Israel.
“There are challenges that lie ahead,” he said, “but when we have to face those challenges, it helps to know that we have such a strong friend at our side who leads, who understands and shares values and will stand with us, just as we will always stand with the United States.”
Turning to the federation leaders and other organization heads at the meeting, Krasna said, “The vibrancy and success of the Jewish community is truly a strategic asset.”