Six of the 39th legislative district candidates for state senate and general assembly spoke at the Bergen County Y-JCC in Washington Township on October 13. The district, which has voted Republican since 1982, includes portions of both Bergen and Passaic Counties.
Currently, the district is represented in the senate by Gerald Cardinale, who has held his position for 31 years, and in the general assembly by Robert Schroeder
and Holly Schepisi, who is running for her second term. Running to replace Schroeder is Bob Auth.
Only one individual, Jane Bidwell, a Democrat, is running against Cardinale. Donna Abene and Anthony Iannerelli, both Democrats, are running against Schepisi and Auth for the district’s two assembly seats.
Cardinale and Bidwell both have advanced degrees from NYU, Cardinale in dentistry and Bidwell in clinical social work. Cardinale is running on a platform of lowering taxes, auditing government spending and reversing laws that restrict business like a number of environmental and land use regulations. Bidwell’s agenda includes tax credits and incentives for green industries, job training, aid directed specifically toward women-and-minority owned businesses, working on the public school system and women’s health care.
The debate focused on six topics: legislation revolving around the elderly, Israel, employment, homeland security, natural disasters and education. Education, employment and natural disaster preparedness brought the most heat and liveliness to the forum.
All three Republican candidates support the usage of school vouchers; something which all three Democratic candidates oppose. Bidwell said that the children who need the most help are the ones who would suffer if there were vouchers and Iannerelli added that he’s opposed to vouchers, particularly when it comes to religious schools, because it is “an abandonment of our public school system.”
“Charter schools are not the answer, making all our schools better is the answer,” Abene added.
When the microphone moved over to the right side of the table, Cardinale ripped into the current system after talking about the 200 failing schools in state.
“Throwing money at the failure factories is producing kids who, when they graduate high school, 40 percent of them can read at an [only] eighth grade level,” Cardinale said. “We cannot let their lives go down the tubes because we are slaves to a special interest group that opposes competition because competition in the public schools will straighten it out,” he added.
Cardinale brought up special interest groups again when speaking about business and said that their hands in government are not helpful. What would be helpful, according to him, is getting the Democrats out of control of the state legislature. Schepisi , after defining the millionaire’s tax as a small business tax, said that it and other taxes like it are not the way to provide jobs and build businesses.
Auth’s parents moved here before he was born because there were no income or sales taxes then. At that time, “New Jersey was the greatest state in the nation,” Auth said. “Now, New Jersey has the ignominious distinction of being number 49 out of 50 by states that are good for business.” His concerns, numbered one to three, are jobs, jobs and taxes.
Bidwell, Iannerelli and Abene referred to the many Democrat-sponsored job programs which Governor Christie had vetoed and Bidwell spoke at length about Cardinale’s voting record.
All six candidates agreed that the government should be doing their best to keep the elderly healthy and in their homes. They also all agreed that the state’s relationship with Israel is of the utmost importance.
Elections are under three weeks away and all candidates urged the public to go out and vote with different messages in mind for those voters.
“The Republicans have held this district for 30 years, so ask yourself, are you better off,” Iannerlli said in his closing remarks.
As the last speaking, Auth spoke about a relative planning to vote for Harry Truman the year she turned 21 and the advice she was given, to vote down his party line.
By Aliza Chasan