Candidates focus on challenges
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Candidates focus on challenges

Money matters were high on the agenda as voters heard a pitch for the Democratic and Republican candidates for governor on Sunday at a breakfast forum at Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge.

We faced “the toughest time since the Depression, yet we have a balanced budget in the state of New Jersey,” said State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 37), appealing for the re-election of Democrat Gov. Jon Corzine.

“Raising taxes is not the answer” to the state’s fiscal woes, said State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Dist. 39). “The problem is we spend too much,” he said, appealing for the election of Republican challenger Chris Christie, former U.S. attorney for New Jersey.

Weinberg is running for the newly created lieutenant governor’s post on the ticket with Corzine, and the session was billed as a “lieutenant governor’s candidates forum.” Cardinale spoke as surrogate for the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, who could not attend.

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State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, left, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, and state Sen. Gerald Cardinale, standing in for Sheriff Kim Guadagno, the Republican candidate, speak in River Edge on Sunday. Photos by Charles Zusman

In effect the session was a sounding board for the achievements and goals of the gubernatorial candidates themselves. The governor and lieutenant governor candidates are one ballot entry, so a vote is cast for the team.

Weinberg, of Teaneck, has been an assistant Bergen County administrator, Teaneck council member, a member of the N.J. Assembly, and was elected to the N.J. Senate in November of 2005.

Guadagno, of Monmouth Beach, is the sheriff of Monmouth County and has served as deputy chief of the corruption unit in the United States Attorney’s office and as deputy director of the state Division of Criminal Justice.

Independent candidate Chris Daggett has selected as his running-mate Frank Esposito, a Kean College educator. The independent slate was not represented at the forum.

The post of lieutenant governor was established in an amendment to the state’s Constitution passed by voters in 2005, to take effect this year. The lieutenant governor will step in as acting governor if the governor’s post becomes vacant. Until now, the Senate president filled that role.

This is more than a theoretical exercise. In 2001, Gov. Christie Whitman stepped down to become head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Senate President Donald DiFrancesco filled in. In 2004, Senate President Richard Codey stepped in when Gov. James McGeevey resigned.

Besides standing in the line of succession, duties for the lieutenant governor are not specified, and he or she may be assigned roles at the governor’s discretion, except for the Attorney General’s office.

In addition to finances, Sunday’s session touched on a range of social issues, including education, abortion, and stem cell research. Weinberg spoke first, followed by a question-and-answer session. Cardinale then spoke, and took questions.

Weinberg, who is the beneficiary of support from the National Jewish Democratic Council, made the one reference of the day to her being Jewish when she spoke of education, which she called the only area immune to budget cuts by Corzine.

“We Jews are most interested in education,” she said. “We see results” under the Corzine administration, she noted, saying that urban youngsters are catching up to their suburban counterparts in achievement.

Cardinale said Christie favors charter schools. He cited the city of Newark, where he said more money is spent per public school pupil than in suburbia and achievement still lags. On the other hand, he said charter schools, with more control by parents and less by unions, cost less, have a high achievement rate and see 90 percent of their youngsters go to college.

Creation of new green energy jobs and a tax credit for small businesses to create jobs were cited by Weinberg as pluses in Corzine’s column. She said he used $5 billion in federal stimulus money to benefit New Jersey.

Cardinale criticized the Corzine administration for what he called an unfriendly business climate, citing taxes and regulation. “We are 50th out of 50 in attractiveness to business,” he said. We can get out of this “mess” only by growing the economy of New Jersey, Cardinale said.

Weinberg cited family leave, mandated health insurance on breast cancer and prostate cancer screening, funding for autism research, and extension of property tax rebates for senior citizens as achievements under the Corzine administration.

Both speakers touched on the issue of home rule and shared municipal services.

“Everybody wants shared services, but somewhere else,” said Weinberg. “We are encouraging shared services,” she said, but the costs must be spelled out on a town-by-town basis.

Cardinale said shared services can save money in some cases, but in others cost more. He cited studies showing larger school districts, for example, sometimes have higher per-pupil costs than smaller ones.

In an emotional exchange during the question-and-answer period, both speakers lent sympathetic ears to two women who told of losing loved ones to traffic accidents and objected to what they said were just traffic violation citations for the drivers. They said they did not have access to relevant legal proceedings in the cases. Cardinale said a bill has been drafted to address the issue of victims’ rights.

More information about the gubernatorial candidates is available on their Websites – christiefornj.com; joncorzine09.com; daggettforgovernor.com.

The program was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey in partnership with the community relations councils of MetroWest and the Central New Jersey federations. It was hosted by Temple Avodat Shalom.

It is part of a yearly effort to educate the electorate, and is “totally non-partisan,” said Joy Kurland, director of the North Jersey JCRC.

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State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, left, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, and state Sen. Gerald Cardinale, standing in for Sheriff Kim Guadagno, the Republican candidate, speak in River Edge on Sunday. Photos by Charles Zusman
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