Senate is topic of breakfast at Temple Sholom
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Senate is topic of breakfast at Temple Sholom

Dick Zimmer laid out his campaign platform for next week’s Senate election at a gathering at River Edge’s Temple Sholom on Sunday. His opponent, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, sent state Sen. Bob Gordon on his behalf but the 20-odd attendees seemed reluctant to accept the surrogate, who spent more time praising Lautenberg’s history than explaining his positions.

Dick Zimmer

The candidates’ breakfast was sponsored by the shul’s brotherhood, which held a similar breakfast earlier this month with a surrogate of Republican incumbent Rep. Scott Garrett and Democratic challenger Rabbi Dennis Shulman, who are vying for the fifth congressional district seat.

Zimmer, a former representative for New Jersey’s 12th district, immediately went into attack mode, criticizing Lautenberg for not attending the breakfast and “trying to get re-elected by hiding.”

“This is going to be the first election in decades where the two major party candidates will not be on a televised debate on a New York- or Philadelphia-affiliated TV station,” he said, referring to the fact that Lautenberg would not debate him. “That to me is a disservice to the electorate who deserve to see the candidates side by side, answering the same questions, responding to the same issues, responding to each other.”

State Sen. Bob Gordon

The former congressman turned his attention to the amount of money New Jersey receives from the federal government compared to how much the state pays in taxes. According to Zimmer, New Jersey receives 61 cents for every dollar it sends to Washington, the lowest ratio in the country.

“The difference between what we send to Washington and what we get back is more than what everybody in New Jersey pays in property taxes. It’s about the size of the entire state budget,” Zimmer said. “Just think how much better off we’d be if we could keep that money and deal with our own financial problems.”

When money does come back to New Jersey, Zimmer argued, it is often wasted. He cited the Frank R. Lautenberg Train Station at Secaucus Junction, which cost more than $500,000 to build but has not lived up to its potential because it has no commuter parking. The station required a new exit on the New Jersey Turnpike, which Zimmer called “the exit to nowhere.”

Turning to the country’s current financial crisis, Zimmer said he would have voted against the government bailout.

“There’s nothing done to address the failure of regulation that created this problem in the first place,” he said.

On the subject of offshore drilling, Zimmer stated his opposition to drilling off New Jersey’s coast but said the decision should be left up to the affected states.

In the past, when the price of oil goes down – prices have receded by more than 50 percent in recent weeks – efforts to develop new energy sources have also decreased, Zimmer said.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg

“That is something we cannot afford to happen again,” he said. “It’s not just a question of price at the pump. It’s a question of domestic and international security – sending money to nations who do not wish us well.”

He called for a “comprehensive” energy policy with renewable sources, including nuclear energy.

Gordon (D-38), who said he could not comment on the specifics of Lautenberg’s votes, began by citing the senator’s accomplishments, particularly in fighting for New Jersey’s tough chemical industry protection laws, for legislation requiring oil tankers to reinforce their hulls, and against privatization of air traffic control.

“He’s always been there for the state,” Gordon said of Lautenberg. “It’s crucial we send him back to Washington.”

Responding to Zimmer’s accusation that Lautenberg has failed to increase the returns to New Jersey for each dollar sent to the government, Gordon said that the federal allocations in question are sent mostly to welfare programs, such as food stamps, that New Jersey does not need as much as other states.

“We don’t want to be high up” in the roster of states needing government funding, he said.

Gordon agreed that new energy sources must be developed.

“We can’t drill our way out of this problem,” Gordon said, citing the high risk offshore drilling poses to New Jersey’s tourism industry.

Temple Sholom’s Rabbi Neal Borovitz posed a question to both men on federal earmarks, specifically those for the Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, or NORC, program. Temple Sholom was one of the first sites in northern New Jersey to host NORC programming in 2004, but federal dollars for that allocation dried up after a year. UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey has received new NORC funding since but it has not been allocated to renewing the program at Temple Sholom.

“Earmarks are way out of control,” Zimmer said. They are also unreliable, he added.

He advocated making NORCs a permanent part of the budget, with funding based on merit.

“We don’t need earmarks,” he said.

Trudy Mayer of Hackensack said she came to the breakfast intending to vote for Lautenberg. Although she said she “enjoyed” listening to Zimmer and Gordon, she was “very disappointed” that Lautenberg was a no-show – so disappointed, she said, that she intends to cast her vote for Zimmer.

Richard Lurie of River Edge remained undecided after hearing the presentations, but said he was “very positively impressed by Mr. Zimmer.”

“He seems to be very thoughtful and moderate,” Lurie added.

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