NJ gubernatorial candidates speak out on Jewish issues

NJ gubernatorial candidates speak out on Jewish issues

Jack Ciattarelli
Jack Ciattarelli

On June 6, New Jersey voters will go to the polls to choose their party’s candidate for the 2017 gubernatorial election. Eleven candidates are on the ballot, six Democrats and five Republicans. To inform voters’ choices, The Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, in partnership with NJJN, asked candidates four questions about issues of concern to the Jewish community and the state of New Jersey. Republican candidate Jack Ciattarelli, a state assemblyman for the 16th Legislative District; Democrat Jim Johnson, a former official in the U.S. Department of the Treasury; Democrat Raymond J. Lesniak, a state senator for Elizabeth; Democrat Phil Murphy, the former U.S. ambassador to Germany; and Democrat John Wisniewski, state assemblyman for the 19th Legislative District responded. The questions and answers, edited for length and clarity, appear below: 

What will your administration do to fight anti-Semitism and bias crimes against other groups?

Ciattarelli: I strongly condemn anti-Semitism and all bias crimes. I will be a voice for tolerance and unity, and will call out acts of hate in the strongest terms and ensure that our state law enforcement prosecutes all bias crimes to the fullest extent of the law. It is a fundamental truth that bias crimes don’t occur in a vacuum; they come about in a climate of hate that we must combat at its roots. To that extent, I will be a voice to encourage youth education and to urge our leaders at all levels of government not to pander to the lowest-common denominator and amplify mindless hatred, but rather to serve as role models for tolerance and openness to others who are not like them. 

Johnson: I know that protecting our community centers and places of worship is crucial for the security of our country, the health of our democracy, and the spirit of our neighborhoods. The surge of bomb threats targeting Jewish Community Centers in New Jersey and around the country earlier this year was serious and frightening. Clearly, these threats were anti-Semitic in nature, and, as governor, I will ensure that law enforcement officials continue to investigate these threats and future threats of this kind.  

As under secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement, President Bill Clinton appointed me as cochair of the National Church Arson Task Force to investigate hundreds of church burnings in the South and prevent future arsons. The probe eventually expanded to all houses of worship, including mosques and synagogues. The investigation contributed to a 34 percent arrest rate, more than double the 16 percent rate of arson arrests nationwide.

It is the duty of law enforcement to protect citizens from hate crimes of all forms. As governor, I will ensure that law enforcement officers across the state have the resources and training they need to combat anti-Semitism and bias crimes. I believe that the governor plays a major role in setting the values of a state. Therefore, I will make clear on day one that anti-Semitism will not be tolerated in New Jersey.

Lesniak: I am a member of the interfaith organization Stand Up For The Other and lead its pledge in the Senate to call out any anti-Semitism and hate speech against any other groups and have spoken at numerous rallies since its inception.  My administration will be led by its message in all of its work. 

Murphy: Across the country, our Jewish communities are facing a wave of anti-Semitic activity that harkens back to some of the darkest times in our history. New Jersey, tragically, has not been spared in this latest wave of threats to the Jewish community. Make no mistake: these cowardly acts violate the most fundamental tenets of our nation and we must treat these actions for what they are — hate crimes — and bring the perpetrators to justice. I have called on President Trump and Attorney General Sessions to investigate and prosecute anti-Jewish hate groups in our country, and Governor Christie and his attorney general must do the same here in New Jersey.

If I am elected governor, I will stand up to hate and bigotry at every turn. I will make sure that all of our schools receive the security funding that they need so that our students are protected. I will have a strong working relationship with the entire congressional delegation to maximize the return of federal security dollars for New Jersey. And lastly, I will continue and expand efforts to provide state security funding to counties that are ineligible for federal funding streams.

Wisniewski: As governor, I would coordinate with the county prosecutor’s bias crimes unit and my attorney general’s office to expand and appropriately fund hate crimes mitigation. They would also provide educational programs in schools to not just have Holocaust education, but also a broader anti-Semitism/anti-bias hate curriculum. I will push the legislature to re-do the Tyler Clementi law that got overturned by the courts.

Generally, I will be an active advocate for the Jewish community, addressing hate and bias incidents directly and bluntly as they happen.

Recently, synagogues, temples, and other religious and cultural structures have seen additional security funding from Homeland Security. I will ensure that this stream remains open so everyone can continue to have the right to worship and assemble.

What are your plans to build economic, academic, and other cooperative bridges with the State of Israel?  

Ciattarelli: The State of New Jersey has been a leader in collaborative efforts with the State of Israel, and I would look to build on that past history and continue and strengthen those initiatives. I would consider sending the secretary of higher education on a mission to Israel to meet with academic leaders there and discuss how to better strengthen and increase the academic collaboration with New Jersey’s world-class institutions, and likewise would request that the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) explore what economic incentives can be brought to bear to bolster and encourage mutually-beneficial partnerships between companies in New Jersey and in Israel. 

Johnson: I am committed to building strong economic and academic bridges with the state of Israel. I visited Israel last year with the American-Israel Friendship League hosted by Josh Weston, the founder of ADP. While there, I visited with my stepdaughter Natalie who was in Israel at the time for her rabbinical studies. Central to my economic platform is investing in budding industries where there is room for growth and innovation, like green-energy and startup technology — areas where Israel has excelled. As governor, I will look to other states and countries, like Israel, for help and ideas on how to best grow these industries and expand New Jersey’s economy. Additionally, as governor, I will encourage universities to continue or expand their overseas programs for students and professors to continue the mutually beneficially exchange of cultures and ideas. 

Lesniak: I supported divestiture with Iran and have been awarded Man of the Year for my work with the Jewish National Fund. 

Murphy: I understand that in the 21st century, New Jersey must be a global actor. And that means we must have partnerships not only with other states, but also with other countries. There is no country with which there is greater potential for partnership than Israel. That is why I have continued my family’s tradition of visiting Israel every year to meet with business, academic, research, and government leaders. I will continue this tradition next month (June) when I will take my fifth trip to Israel since 2013, when I returned from my tenure as the U.S. ambassador to Germany. The relationships I have built with the State of Israel will help our state form partnerships with Israeli research universities and businesses if I am elected governor. I believe these partnerships can open new markets to Israeli businesses, while bringing critical expertise, research, and investment to help grow our economy in New Jersey. 

One crucial part of this effort is ensuring that Israel is not isolated, and I will make clear that New Jersey’s support for Israel is unequivocal. We must invest in Israel, which is why I opposed Governor Christie’s decision to end the state’s practice of investing in Israel bonds.

Wisniewski: I will make sure that the state pension is investing in joint ventures with Israeli and New Jersey companies. I will also expand academic relationships between the state’s public colleges and universities and Israel-based educational institutions. In 2014, I travelled with an Assembly delegation to Israel and toured Ben-Gurion University where we learned about economic incubators. It’s a program and process that I’d like to bring to New Jersey to foster public-private partnerships to spur our economy and strengthen relations.

What are your priorities for nonpublic school students? Do you support state assistance in areas such as transportation, security, technology, and health services? 

Ciattarelli: I am firmly committed to the welfare, education, and healthy development of all New Jersey children, regardless of whether they attend public schools or private schools. All of our precious children deserve safe routes to school; protection from those who would do them harm; and basic services meant to ensure their healthy future and their ability to function in a technologically-savvy society.

Johnson: I strongly believe that every child deserves access to a high-quality education, regardless of race, religion, income status, or zip code. That’s why I support state assistance for nonpublic school students in areas such as transportation, security, technology, and health services.  

Lesniak: Yes.

Murphy: I support existing streams of funding for nonpublic school students, such as funding for students at Jewish day schools, in addition to fully funding SFRA (School Funding Reform Art) for public school students. We must ensure that all students have access to crucial services, particularly those that keep students healthy and safe. 

Wisniewski: I will keep the current courtesy bussing law in place. In light of the new level of threats we have been experiencing since last November, security is important now more than ever for all students and I will ensure that schools don’t have to choose between staying safe and providing an adequate educational experience. In terms of health services, my single-payer plan tackles the crisis of uncertainty that threatens everyone’s access to health care and the economy with President Trump and the Republicans maintaining their vow to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

What are your top priorities for the state of New Jersey?  

Ciattarelli: When I announced my candidacy in October, I outlined a substantive five-point plan to solve our affordability, fiscal, and economic crises. My plan fixes the failed school funding formula to provide suburban property tax relief; revitalizes our economy and creates an environment for business and job growth by reforming our state’s onerous tax code; reduces the size of state government by up to 10 percent; reforms employee benefits to make our pension system solvent; and fosters bipartisan communications to get New Jersey’s fair share of federal funds.

Johnson: The rules of democracy don’t apply in New Jersey. Instead, we have a system in Trenton that consistently favors the insiders over the people. It’s allowed our transit to fail, foreclosures and property taxes to soar, and inequality to rise. As governor, I am prepared to pass ethics reform to build a New Jersey that is fair for us all — and I am the only candidate who has put forth a comprehensive plan to do so. Ethics reform is the only way to lower our property taxes and foreclosure rates, build affordable housing, and implement universal pre-K, which are a few of my other top priorities. 

Lesniak: Economic growth, cutting waste in government, fiscal stability, improving educational opportunities for children from low-income families, implementing my NJGrow Healthy Plan to make New Jersey fossil fuel-free by 2050, and appointing citizen watchdogs to serve on major state entities like the Port Authority, NJ Transit, and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority (Turnpike and Garden State Parkway) to save taxpayer dollars and tolls.  

Murphy: I believe that we must grow our economy and make it fairer so that it works for everyone, not just those at the top. Under Chris Christie, New Jersey’s economy and job growth has lagged well behind our competitor states. We can grow our economy by making the investments we need to create good-paying jobs for the 21st century. I will strengthen our infrastructure economy by investing in roads and bridges, mass transit, and clean energy, and I will build an innovation economy by focusing on STEM education and funding our institutions of higher education. And I will ensure that our economy works for everyone by instituting a $15 minimum wage, guaranteeing paid sick leave statewide, expanding the earned income tax credit, creating a child and dependent care tax credit, and ensuring equal pay for equal work.

I also believe that we need to make sure that New Jersey stands for the right things — now more than ever. That starts with standing up to President Trump and ensuring that we stand for core New Jersey values such as religious tolerance, environmental protection, and access to health care.

New Jersey used to be a national model on these issues; if I am elected governor, we will reclaim that mantle.


1. Addressing our pension crisis head on by committing the state to quarterly payments.

2. Providing property tax relief via a more progressive tax structure and corporate tax loophole closures so seniors and millennials, in particular, can afford to stay here.

3. Enacting a single-payer system to keep us competitive with states such as New York and California that are currently in the process of establishing their own programs to provide people with access to quality healthcare that they deserve.

4. Ending the failed War on Drugs by decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana and laying the groundwork for a taxable recreational market.

5. Restoring New Jersey’s place as an environmental leader on the Eastern Seaboard by rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), banding together with states like New York and Washington in the United States Climate Alliance, and taking the steps to make a clean energy economy by mid-century.

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