Rebecca Feldman is in her element at SmartWorld Coffee in Morristown, which she calls “my neighborhood coffee place.”
Customers and staff greet her by name as she orders a coffee and an egg sandwich and sits down to offer her take on politics and her opposition, and how being Jewish carries into her campaign for State Assembly.
An independent candidate, she is challenging 18-year incumbent Michael Patrick Carroll for a seat in the Assembly representing District 25, which includes parts of Morris County as well as Bernardsville in Somerset County.
“I know how to run an independent race,” she said. “This incumbent does not represent [the views of] the majority of residents here. With no Democratic candidate running, it’s an opportunity to get an independent elected.”
Her big issues are guns, jobs, and the quality of life in Morris County.
Feldman got into politics almost by accident, when she first moved to Morristown and set out to fix up her neighborhood playground, which she described as “neglected” at the time. Eventually, she was appointed to the planning board, and helped run an ultimately unsuccessful independent campaign in 2005. In 2007, she ran her own successful campaign for Morristown Town Council, and was reelected in 2011 for a second term.
“My Jewish identity has always been very important to me,” said Feldman, a member of Beth Hatikvah, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Summit.
It made a particularly big impression when, at age 15, she moved from Teaneck to Warren. “We were the only Jewish family I knew there,” she said.
Her sister, Jennifer Feldman, became a Reconstructionist rabbi (she now leads the Kehilla Synagogue in Chapel Hill, NC) and introduced Rebecca to Reconstructionist Judaism. Rebecca’s husband now sits on the board of Beth Hatikvah and edits its newsletter. While she focuses on the general community and he focuses on the synagogue, she said, “I’m all about building a better community. It’s the idea of repairing the world,” or tikun olam.
On the first day of New Jersey’s gay marriage law taking effect, Feldman expressed her support for all families headed by two parents. “I absolutely support marriage equality. Many studies show that one key to upward mobility is living in a community where there are families headed by two parents. We should not stand in the way of any two-parent families.”
Feldman got involved in gun legislation after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012. “It was a real wake-up call,” she said. “That incident and the everyday toll — the number of kids who are dying from gun violence — made me feel like everything else I’ve been doing was a complete waste of time.” In 2013 she cofounded the Morris Area Committee to Reduce Gun Violence, which has merged into Moms Demand Action NJ.
Feldman supports an Assembly that will send a resolution to Congress to pass gun reform legislation, something Carroll opposed. She also supported Gov. Chris Christie’s prohibition on allowing those on the terrorist watch list to purchase guns. Carroll, an avid supporter of gun rights, opposed Christie’s prohibition as well.
“In our district, more than 90 percent of residents support universal background checks, including the vast majority of gun owners,” she said.
At a recent meeting of the Second Amendment Society in Morristown, Carroll suggested that Feldman is a veiled Democrat who doesn’t believe in the rights conferred by the Second Amendment.
As an independent candidate, she is a proponent of non-partisanship, especially now. “This race is not just local. It’s a referendum on where politics stand. If I win I will be the only independent in the legislature and only the 13th in the country. If I win, it will send a message that politicians should be solving problems, not creating partisan divides.”
She added, “What each of us does really matters.”