Shulman and Garrett stand-in speak at River Edge shul
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Shulman and Garrett stand-in speak at River Edge shul

Dennis Shulman, the blind psychotherapist and rabbi from Demarest running on the Democratic ticket for New Jersey’s fifth congressional district, told a crowd at River Edge’s Temple Sholom on Sunday that America “can do better” than it has.

Rabbi Dennis Shulman

Shulman spoke at the annual candidates breakfast hosted by the synagogue’s brotherhood. He and a stand-in for his opponent, incumbent Rep. Scott Garrett, laid out their respective positions before opening the floor to questions.

“For the past eight years I have watched outraged and heartbroken as this country has lost its way,” Shulman said. He cited the Iraq war and failures to develop a new energy policy and prevent a collapse of the mortgage market.

“On all of these issues we have lost our way and it is time for a change,” he said. “I plan to work for a rapid and responsible end to the war in Iraq.”

America’s foreign policy in the Middle East, focused on Iraq, has “bolstered Iran’s power in the region and filled its treasury,” he said.

Because so many resources went toward the Iraq war, America took its focus off Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Shulman charged.

The candidate accused Garrett – who sits on the House Financial Services and Budget committees and several financial subcommittees – of taking campaign contributions from financial organizations that his committees are supposed to monitor.

“What America needs today is not ideologues,” he said. “We need people who are dedicated to solving the problems we have.”

Barry Honig, who ran a failed campaign for the state Senate in 2003 against the late Byron Baer, spoke for Garrett. The blind entrepreneur drew some snickers from audience members who whispered about the appropriateness of Garrett choosing a blind man as his representative during a race with a blind opponent.

Honig played up Garrett’s commitment to using all options available in a national energy policy that includes offshore drilling and drilling in Alaska’s Artic National Wildlife Refuge while exploring options for alternative energy sources. This policy, Honig said, was “tactical and strategic” because it uses available resources while planning for the future.

Drilling in just 2,000 of the 20 million acres of ANWR would produce 1.5 million barrels of oil a day, Honig said. This amount, which Honig said must be solely for U.S. consumption, would more than balance out losses to oil refineries from recent hurricanes and almost equal U.S. purchases from Saudi Arabia. The drilling, he added, would have minimal environmental impact because of the small area that would be affected.

“Like where you put your brush on your sink relative to your entire house,” he said.

While Shulman voiced his opposition to offshore drilling, Honig said that Garrett favors allowing states to decide whether to allow drilling within 50 miles of their coastlines.

“States need to have a say,” Honig said.

Brotherhood co-president Jonathan Rochlin said he was uncertain if Garrett’s absence made a difference, but he was pleased with the turnout.

“Candidate Shulman and Cong. Garrett’s representative presented their platforms in a clear manner,” he said.

After Sunday’s breakfast, Shulman appeared at the opening of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s new building and then at a barbecue at the YJCC.

The candidate had been scheduled to appear at the YJCC of Washington Township on Tuesday, Sept. 16, for a forum with a Garrett representative but canceled his appearance just days before and sent a representative instead. Shulman spokesman Jeff Hauser called it a “terribly difficult decision.”

Shulman had two other appearances scheduled for Tuesday evening and when he learned that Garrett would not attend himself, Hauser explained, Shulman decided to honor his other commitments. Hauser accused Garrett of avoiding public debates.

“We will appear anywhere, anytime with Scott Garrett,” Hauser said. “Where is Scott Garrett?”

Michael Gross, the moderator at the YJCC event, said he was “terribly disappointed” that neither candidate showed up.

“You can’t even meet them physically,” he said. “If I had known this would be the case, we wouldn’t have [scheduled the forum].”

Garrett’s campaign office responded that scheduling conflicts kept the congressman away from the YJCC and Temple Sholom events but that he has agreed to three debates with Shulman. According to an e-mail from Amanda Gasperino, a spokesperson for his campaign, Sunday’s event conflicted with church services that Garrett attends regularly with his family. During the YJCC event, Gasperino wrote, Garrett was in Washington “voting for solutions to our nation’s energy crisis.”

“The congressman’s campaign was unsuccessful in [its] attempt to reschedule both events,” she wrote.

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