State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Dist. 14) says she connects her career of service to her Jewish values.
“Judaism has a strong service and justice ethic, and I feel those are among the values that motivate me and made me choose a law career and to go into politics,” said Greenstein, a member of the Jewish Center of Princeton, May 15.
Now she is aiming to exercise those values on a bigger scale: She is among the four Democrats seeking to fill the District 12 U.S. congressional seat now held by retiring Rep. Rush Holt. The Democratic primary is June 3.
Although the candidates differ more in experience and background than in policy per se, Greenstein is hoping her record as an environmentalist, a seasoned legislator, and an occasional maverick will help her stand out in the crowded field (see sidebar).
“I’ve been a real leader in shepherding through important and difficult legislation,” Greenstein said, adding that she has often stood alone, when necessary. Offering examples, she recalled her opposition to a permit-extension bill that she felt ignored environmental views and a sales tax increase that she disagreed with.
As for her own similarities to Rush Holt, a liberal best known for championing scientific research, she said, “He is somebody who has brought a grasp of the issues and is intelligent, thoughtful, and deliberative. I am thoughtful and deliberative when I deal with issues, and not a bomb thrower.”
Greenstein, vice chair of the Environment and Energy Committee and environment representative on the budget committee, was one of the prime sponsors of the first greenhouse gas bill in the NJ legislature.
“I try to become part of all initiatives and make sure we are using scientific theory to deal with it,” she said. The Sierra Club’s NJ chapter endorsed her state Senate run. “While jobs are very important, and I want to do everything I can to help, I don’t want to sacrifice environmental issues for other things,” she said.
Growing up in a housing project in Brooklyn, Greenstein went to public school, attended Vassar College on a full scholarship, earned a master’s degree in psychology at Johns Hopkins University and later a law degree from Georgetown University Law Center.
Her experience in nonprofits and government has been wide, including working for National Council of Jewish Women and the Anti-Defamation League and in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, and serving as deputy attorney general in Trenton prosecuting doctors for Medicaid fraud.
During her nine years working at the Camden-based Community Health Law Project, she taught and led clinics at Seton Hall Law School and Montclair State University.
In 1992, released from the limitations on political involvement of a state job, she remembered saying to her husband, “I would love to become active in the community.”
Starting with a position on the school board in Plainsboro, she moved to the township government, then won a position in the State Assembly in a district gerrymandered for Republicans, and in 2010 became a state senator.
She has also been active in JWIN, Jewish Women in Network, an ad-hoc group encouraging women to share strategies for campaigning and governing.
She supported the recent NJ Dream Act that gives in-state tuition to immigrant children, and would like to see it become a national policy. “On the federal level, I’d like to see us stop pretending that we don’t have loads of people here who need to get established in their status, and we need a path to citizenship,” she said. Without federal action, states feel under pressure and pass anti-immigration laws like those in Arizona.
Greenstein said she is prepared to work with opponents in the Tea Party as best she can, using the skills she has developed in her own district — which has given majorities both to President Barack Obama and Republican Gov. Chris Christie — to work with people who have different views and sometimes partner with them.
Greenstein has been a major supporter of raising the minimum wage. “I would love to see the day come when we have not only a minimum but a living wage,” she said. She said she will also work to protect Social Security and Medicare and wants to learn more about the Affordable Care Act, figure out any problems, and help to fix them.
About Israel, Greenstein said, “I am going to be a solid supporter of Israel. I want Israel to be strong and secure, but I also want peace and am going to do everything I can to help in that process.
“The issues must be decided by the Israelis and the Palestinians, with America playing an important supportive role.”