|Dr. Dierdre Paul, left, and Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr.|
Dr. Dierdre Paul, a 49-year-old Montclair State University professor, faces an uphill battle against Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., the 77-year-old nine-term Democratic incumbent in New Jersey’s Ninth Congressional District.
In a candidate’s forum Monday night at the Community Baptist Church in Englewood, sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and the Bergen County chapter of the NAACP, Dr. Paul said that she has not been a Republican for very long.
In fact, in 2008 she had been the Englewood chair of the Obama campaign. “No one hoped more than me that the president would succeed,” she said. “Even as late as 2012 I tried to maintain that hope and faith in the Democratic party. Instead, it was the African American base masking the same old Democratic policies.
“We have a failed war on poverty, a failed war on drugs,” she continued. “Why does the Democratic establishment feel they only need to show up in election time? People are hurting now.”
Mr. Pascrell opened by saying that his “first objective in Congress is to keep us safe. I solemnly swear to each one of you that I will keep us safe against foreign enemies and any domestic enemies who want to take advantage of us.”
Asked about economic issues, Mr. Pascrell called for raising the minimum wage, and for “fair trade policies that do not simply export jobs.” He said proudly that “the president used one of my pieces of legislation, to stop paying corporations to send jobs overseas, in the State of the Union address.” And he defended President Obama’s economic record: “We are not where we should be, but this president has put more people to work in the private sector in the six years he was president than his predecessor did in the eight years he was president. We now have the smallest federal employment base in 15 or 20 years.”
Dr. Paul said that “People are hurting in a variety of ways” and that Social Security must be maintained.
She declared it “unconscionable” that social security payments are going to ex-Nazis, and called for ending the practice of dunning social security payments to repay student loans. Rep. Pascrell replied: “Nazis are Nazis. I don’t use the word former,” agreeing that they should lose their social security benefits.
Regarding social security in general, “I’m glad you want to keep it,” he said. “I hope you tell your party.”
During the 90 minute exchange, Dr. Paul twice cited a New Testament verse (James 1:8) against the congressman. “My Bible states that ‘A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways,'” she said. The first time, she criticized her opponent as one of 20 congressmen who switched their votes from nay to yay on the Wall Street bailout in 2008. Later she used the verse when she criticized him as being too harsh on illegal immigrants.
Asked about the Affordable Care Act, Dr. Paul said “It’s here. It makes no sense to me to talk about whether I agree or don’t agree. But what I do think is that the implementation was handled poorly.”
Mr. Pascrell said that thanks to the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, there are “almost eight million people who now have insurance who didn’t have it before.” It worked the best “in those states that set up their own insurance exchanges, unlike New Jersey. You have a problem not only with your party in Washington, you have a problem with our party in New Jersey. When I hear criticism of the Affordable Care Act, a bill I voted for, I always look for what are you going to put in its place.”
The candidates were asked about violence against women.
“It’s a serious problem in our society,” Mr. Pascrell said. “The culture needs to change. Equity deserves no equivocation. The first law we passed in the 2009 Congress was the Ledbetter bill, to give equal pay for women.”
The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed Congress with only three Republican representatives supporting it, two of them from New Jersey.
“I am a different face of the Republican party,” Dr. Paul declared. “I am a single working mom. A homeowner. A divorced Catholic. I can tell anyone about what domestic violence looks like because I grew up with it. My mother was a victim of domestic violence. It’s something that surpasses party lines. It’s very important to not let go of the gains made for women. In Congress that is what I would consider one of my primary responsibilities.”
Regarding the Middle East, Dr. Paul said that “Israel must have the right to defend itself against Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization. Its sole reason for being is to kill Jews and the complete and utter destruction of Israel. Our current policies in the Middle East hurt our friends and reward our enemies.
“For me, radical Islam is our problem. I must be clear that the vast majority of our Muslims in Congressional District 9 are people who are peaceful and value their faith and have the same disdain for radicals the rest of us do.
“I think the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would love to coexist peacefully side by side, but that cannot exist as long as we, the United States, do not adequately support Israel in its right to defend itself. We saw this all summer, where Democrats right and left were questioning Israel’s right. Our allies don’t have confidence in us, in the U.S., and you need that.”
“That’s one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard, that Democrats do not support the State of Israel,” Mr. Pascrell retorted. “I’ve voted for every dollar that was supposed to go to Israel, without exception. From the time I stepped into Congress, I supported a two-state solution.
“I support a two state solution and believe Israel should defend itself. I would not want to live in Tel Aviv with rockets over my head – and no one should have to live that way.”
Dr. Paul attacked the congressman for his support of Mohammad Qatanani, the Paterson imam whom the United States is seeking to deport, and for not stepping forward “when Steve Rothman was accused of dual loyalty in the Arab community when you ran against him last time.”
“I supported Qatanani because the FBI people I consulted with said there was no basis to the charges,” he said. “I’m not going to act as judge and jury.
“I have a great relationship with the Jewish community and with the Arab community. I’m not going to fight that battle over again. I did that loud and clear two years ago.
“I just came back from Israel,” in August, he continued. “They wouldn’t have invited me if they didn’t know they had a true friend here.”
On education, Dr. Paul, who is a professor of education, praised vouchers.
“How long should we ask parents in Englewood, in Garfield, in Passaic, in Paterson, to send their children to failing schools? Paterson had 26 college-ready students graduate high school; now that dropped to 19. I believe in educational alternatives, including non-corporatized charters and vouchers. Competition is needed, so failing schools can improve their performance so they can compete, or shut down so they can’t continue to hurt children,” she said.
Mr. Pascrell said that though he was the product of parochial schools, “I believe very strongly in public education. I can support charters, and I did in the past when I was in the state legislature, before it became fashionable, if they have a particular purpose so we know where the money is being spent.
“I do not support vouchers. We should keep the separation between church and state. We have our hands full in trying to make our schools work,” he said.
There was little difference between the candidates on the question of incarceration. Both praised the work being done by Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on drafting a bipartisan sentencing reform bill.
Both also criticized banks.
“I envision my role as not propping up banks that are too big to fail,” Dr. Paul said. “They had no responsibility in giving people mortgages to people who they knew could not pay them back.”
“There’s no question in my mind a lot of folks running banks should be in jail,” Mr. Pascrell said. “My grandfather used to say that the wrong people are jail. Five banks in America control 90 percent of the assets. We have to deal with that.”
On Ebola, Dr. Paul said “I am fully supportive of Governor Christie and Governor Cuomo in their approach. The governors have a responsibility for public safety that far outweighs an individual’s right.”
Mr. Pascrell disagreed. “Both governors have backed off their original position. I would listen to Dr. Fauci” – Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who testified to Congress about ebola earlier this month – “before Governor Christie.
“We politicians are experts in anything. We’re architects, we can tell you when a bridge is falling down. We can tell you in a 10-year budget what it’s going to look like. And we can tell you how to take care of health care issues without experts advising us.”
In his closing remarks, Mr. Pascrell praised Dr. Paul for her work as a teacher. “There is not enough applause for teachers in the classroom, for teachers of teachers.”
Dr. Paul closed by saying that “Elections are about choices” and that voters should decide “whether they are better off today than they were 17 years ago,” when Mr. Pascrell first entered Congress. “If the answer is no, the choice is a clear one. New leadership is needed for new and more challenging times.
“One of the biggest compliments I have received is that I am a different kind of Republican. And I am.”