If Rodney Frelinghuysen were a moderate I would not be running in this election,” said Mark Dunec as he stood near the banner of the Livingston Democrats, moments before the start of his town’s Memorial Day parade. “He has voted more than 95 percent of the time with his own party. He is so partisan that I am running against him.”
Dunec, a management consultant by profession, and two other candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination to face the Republican incumbent, who has held the office since 1995, come November.
Voters in parts of Essex, Morris, Passaic, and Sussex counties will be able to choose from among the three candidates at the District 11 primary election on June 3.
An Orthodox Jew, Dunec is a board member of Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School, a former officer of the Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center — both in Livingston — and a former member of the National Council of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Despite an increasingly Republican trend in many parts of the Orthodox community, Dunec said he “supports women’s rights, gay rights, and minority rights, and I am accepting of gay marriage.”
He told NJ Jewish News those stands are “absolutely not” in conflict with his religious beliefs.
“I strongly believe in the separation of church and state,” he said. “I am running for government office, not for president of my synagogue.”
Dunec defines himself as “a numbers guy” who is running “to restore fiscal responsibility, social consideration, and sanity to Congress, which has been hijacked by people who are willing to seek gridlock, including shutting down the government. Rodney Frelinghuysen voted for that,” he said.
Dunec’s rivals are also trying to connect Frelinghuysen to perceived gridlock in Washington.
As Brian Murphy passed out leaflets and shook hands along the parade route in his hometown of Nutley, he said, “Frelinghuysen has become an institution and not an agent for change. The country needs a jumpstart, and men like Frelinghuysen are not the men to do it.”
An editor at the financial services firm Standard & Poor’s, Murphy said, “I know what works for the economy on a macro level and a micro level. When you have a bunch of lawyers in Congress trying to decide financial policies, it just doesn’t work.”
While Murphy and Dunec agree on most issues, they part company on the question of West Bank settlements.
“What Israel needs to do is halt the provocative settlements,” Murphy argued. “When they push people off their land, it creates exclusion, and that creates hard feelings. They need to work with Palestinians, no matter how distasteful they may find it, because they need a two-state solution.”
By contrast, asked about the potential for Arab-Israeli peace, Dunec said, “I do not believe the settlements are an impediment to peace. If whatever agreement they come to over what will be the new Palestine, I think Jewish people [in the settlements] will become Jewish Palestinians, the same way there are Israeli Arabs.”
Added Dunec: “If we want to solve the Middle Eastern conflict, we must focus on women’s rights, gay rights, and minority rights, and peace will come. When the Palestinian and Israeli governments come to an agreement, I will support it.”
Murphy, a Catholic, also holds positions that are seen as at odds with conservative members of his faith.
“I think being gay is not a choice,” he said. “It is something you are born with. I never chose to be straight. I am 100 percent for marriage equality. Abortion should be safe, but rare, and it should be legal.”
The third candidate, Lee Anne Brogowski, describes herself as a “process engineer who solves things that are broken.” She is currently working with PSE&G to develop environmentally friendly “green” technologies.
Seated at a table in the backyard of her Mount Tabor home, Brogowski said running for a House seat is “something I’ve been thinking about for 16 years. I am so dissatisfied with our government, so I can make things change by bringing groups of people together.”
She labels herself a “Libertarian Democrat” who believes “people should take care of themselves, but people unable to take care of themselves should be helped out by the government. In a society where we want to be compassionate, that is the way we should do it,” she said.
Growing up in a Republican home in Paramus, Brogowski said, she switched parties in the 1990s while running a small on-line sales business. “We were struggling financially, and I saw a lot more money being taken out of the bottom and going to the top,” she said.
As for the Middle East, she declared herself “a very strong supporter of Israel, and there are a lot of things Israel does really well. But I am against the settlements on the West Bank, and nothing can be done about peace until they talk about those settlements. Both sides have to give up something.”
Like her opponents, she is pro-choice and a strong supporter of marriage equality and gay rights. “As a libertarian I think it is appropriate that our government focus on things we need as a collective,” she said. “But on personal things, the government should stay out of our business.”