After 38 years in public office, Richard Codey finds himself in a heavy fight for his political survival.
Codey, who has been governor of New Jersey and president of its State Senate, faced bitter primary battles in the heavily Democratic 27th legislative district.
But when district lines were redrawn after the 2010 reapportionment, Codey found himself with constituents in predominantly Republican Morris County, and a challenge from a member of its Tea Party faction.
His opponent for the state Senate seat is William Eames, a veteran member of the Morris County Republican Committee and a former public school teacher and Chamber of Commerce executive who lives in Whippany.
The two men are fighting over a district that has changed radically. Heavily Democratic areas such as Newark and Orange have been replaced by GOP strongholds such as Chatham, Madison, and Florham Park.
The candidates agree on few matters, but one is that the race could be decided by fewer than 1,000 votes. Because Jews tend to vote in larger proportions than other ethnic groups, both men are focusing on outreach to the Jewish community.
Codey is reminding voters that as a state senator he was instrumental in creating the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education and as governor he supported state investment in Israel Bonds. Codey said he has made visits to the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam and to Israel as part of a United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ mission in the late ’80s.
Eames, meanwhile, lists issues he believes will appeal to Jewish voters.
“I have a number of Jewish folks working on my campaign,” Eames told NJ Jewish News in an Oct. 25 telephone interview. “They are worried about the fact they have to pay the full tax load of the public school system and they have to pay tuition as well. I would like to see more choice, more options. I believe competition in education provides the opportunity for both public and private schools to do better, the same way that having a Wendy’s next to a McDonald’s forces both places to do a better job serving their customers.”
“Oh, my God. We’re not talking about hamburgers!” said Codey in an Oct. 26 interview, responding to Eames’s comparison. “We’re talking about kids and their education. I couldn’t think of a worse analogy than that. Government is not a business. If it were, it wouldn’t worry about the poor or the mentally ill.”
Codey has been gathering some support among Republican leaders in Morris County. Several have praised him for support of state aid for the mentally ill and people with special needs.
Asked if he would support such programs, Eames said, “I think there is a role for government in social welfare. By no means would I advocate cutting everything out.
“But neither would I advocate endless programs on top of programs on top of programs that continue taking all of the money out of the system.”
What sort of social programs would he vote to keep funding?
“I think we need to look at all of this stuff in detail,” Eames said. “I am not looking to cut programs that hurt people. That is a label people want to attach because I am a Republican. But I am deeply concerned that many folks I talk to — even people who have Dick Codey signs on their lawns — are saying they cannot afford to live in their towns anymore.”
Eames is cofounder, in 2009, of Morris Patriots, which his website describes as a “tea party organization with more than 350 members.”
“I believe in the things they believe in,” he said of the Tea Party. “They believe our constitution is a mission statement for government. I believe that. It sets out what our role is and what our role is not. The Tea Party believes in fiscal responsibility. You don’t spend money that you don’t have.”
While Codey is steadfastly in favor of abortion rights and same-sex marriage, Eames is staunchly opposed to both.
The Republican described himself as “pro-life,” but added, “How I view the question is you make the choice up front. If you don’t want to have a child, then don’t engage in the behavior that creates the child.”
Eames rejects what he calls “homosexual nuptials” but is reconciled to the state’s civil unions law.
“I believe marriage is defined as between a single man and a single woman,” he said. “We have legal circumstances where people with an alternative lifestyle can live together. That meets the need.”
Eames said voters in District 27 “have a choice. We can reelect folks who have been there for 38 years and expect that suddenly they’re going to have different sets of policies. I don’t think that’s going to happen. They are going to do the same thing they have been doing forever.”
But Codey is determined to stay in office. Like his opponent, he is actively engaged in house-to-house politics.
Codey recalled learning about the new parameters of his constituency.
“That night I started calling all of the independents who vote and started going door-to-door,” he said. “I have visited 6,000 homes by either knocking on their doors or calling them. I think we have a real good chance of winning significantly, and we have a real shot at winning Morris Country, where they have not seen a Democrat elected since Watergate.”
Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, predicts a Codey victory — but not by much.
Although, he said, “nobody expects Codey to lose, he is not going to win by as much as he used to. Every politician learns quickly that you either run unopposed or you run scared, and he’s running scared in a new district with a lot of people who have never had to deal with him or vote for him. He has got to be aggressive out there. He has got to work for it, and he should run scared.
“That is the best way to ensure he is going to win, and I don’t see any reason why Jewish voters would be abandoning him.”