Teaneck Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen has thrown his hat into the ring to challenge Rep. Ernest Scott Garrett, the Republican congressman and Wantage Township, Sussex County, resident whose district now takes in three-quarters of Teaneck, as well as a larger chunk of Bergen County than does his current 5th district.
This follows the redrawing of the state’s congressional districts last month in the wake of the 2010 census, which reduced New Jersey’s congressional delegation from 13 members to 12.
The new lines placed Rep. Steve Rothman’s Fair Lawn residence in Garrett’s expanded 5th District.
Rothman, however, chose not to challenge Garrett, who has a reported $1.5 million campaign war chest. (The Democratic party reportedly would have offered at least $1 million for Rothman’s campaign had he taken on Garrett.)
Instead, Rothman is moving back to Englewood – the town he once led as mayor and in which Garrett was born – to run against Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., in what will be a Democratic primary.
“There seemed to be a vacuum of [Democratic] candidates with a potential to be effective in a district that is Republican-leaning,” Gussen told The Jewish Standard. “I would consider myself of the ‘blue dog’ Democrat mold, with probably some appeal to independents and moderate Republicans.”
Gussen is forming an exploratory committee.
“For the sake of being able to beat Scott Garrett, I would hope the Democratic parties will consolidate around a single candidate,” he said.
Gussen faces “an uphill battle,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville.
“Even in a district like the new fifth that is 45 percent, 46 percent Democratic, it will be tough to get over 50 percent, especially when you’re a relatively unknown candidate working against an incumbent who has represented 80 percent of the people in the district for a number of years,” said Dworkin.
“It’s a very labor-intensive and expensive endeavor,” he said of mounting a congressional challenge.
Responding to Gussen’s candidacy, Pascrell issued a statement: “Any Democrat willing to stand up and fight Congressman Garrett in the 5th Congressional District should be commended.”
And in a jab against Rothman, the statement continued:
“While some may fear tough races, other Democrats in the 5th Congressional District clearly realize that there are battles we need to fight for the soul of the Democratic Party. I applaud all good Democrats who are willing to offer a clear alternative to Garrett’s radical right agenda. It is good to see Democrats fighting for core principles. Too often, politicians would rather cut-and-run than stand and fight on the front lines in the battle to protect America’s disappearing middle class.”
But State Senator Loretta Weinberg defended Rothman. “This is Steve Rothman’s home district and anyone who says otherwise is simply wrong,” she said in a statement.
“Those who suggest that Congressman Rothman should run in Congressman Garrett’s new 5th district, which contains 80 percent of Garrett’s old 5th District, should be aware of the fact that the 9th is Rothman’s home district – where he was born, raised, has lived practically his entire life, and has represented in Congress for the past 15 years.”
Rothman also was endorsed by Assemblyman Gary Schaer, who like Pascrell is from Passaic.
In his endorsement, Schaer pointed to Rothman’s success in securing federal money for his constituents.
“Since going to Washington in 1997, Congressman Rothman has delivered more than $2 billion in federal funding to the 9th District and all of New Jersey. Though our state is losing a seat in Congress, Steve’s post on the House Appropriations Committee is simply too vital for us to do without,” said Schaer, who has the distinction of being the only Orthodox Jew in the Garden State’s lower house.