April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Buono Takes Center Stage at JCRC Forum

West Orange—NJ State Senator Barbara Buono told a group at the Jewish Community Center of Metro West that she is running for governor because Governor Chris Chrisie “supports narrow political interests, and we don’t need Boardwalk Empire in this state.”

She was speaking at a joint forum of Jewish Community Relations Councils of New Jersey (JCRC), which invited both gubernatorial candidates to participate. More than 30 community leaders and council members were in attendance, but Governor Chris Christie did not appear, and Senator Barbara Buono, the Democratic candidate, had the floor to herself.

“New Jersey’s citizens want a dramatic re-ordering in the state’s priorities,” said Buono. She accused of Christie weakening the social safety net at a time when more people are in need of assistance. “The safety net helps people weather storms and lift themselves up.” She said that one way to help the working poor, who often hold more than one job, is to increase the minimum wage so that they can support their families. While Buono is a strong advocate of raising the minimum wage, Gov. Christie has vetoed an increase. Part of the social safety net is provided by non-profit agencies, like those supported by Federation, for which Buono works to provide resources from the state. She also advocates incentives for charitable giving, on which social service agencies are heavily dependent.

The needs of seniors are a high priority for her. She strongly supports the pilot project to help seniors stay in their own homes and age in place. She believes public transportation is vital for this group as well as for those with special needs and says that existing transportation needs to be more accessible. The resulting lack of independence of seniors leads to depression with its accompanying limitations on living a full life.

She also noted that while Governor Christie has traveled to Israel and seeks Jewish support, he has cut funding to the NJ-Israel Trade Commission by eliminating its director and its office in Israel. Senator Buono is a member of the commission and knows that it meets very infrequently.

Buono, the daughter of Italian immigrants, attributed her success in life to her attendance at Montclair State University, where she earned her degree in political science, and was the recipient of a three percent National Defense Student loan. When she couldn’t find a job after graduating, she earned a law degree at New York University, specializing in the public interest. She won a seat in the State Assembly against heavy odds in 1994, and was elected to the State Senate in 2001—where she served as Chair of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, and then was chosen by her colleagues to be the first woman Senate Majority Leader.

Though she prefers to keep her private life private, the current campaign has prompted her to discuss her daughter’s sexual orientation and her Jewish faith. She became a Jew by choice after she married her first husband, who was Jewish. She also talked about what it felt like to be in the mikvah with her infant child in her arms as they were converted.

Buono has worked with Federation to help them provide social services and highlighted her long-standing working relationships with many people in attendance. She also announced that Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Chair of the national Democratic Party, had endorsed her in her run as Governor of New Jersey.

By Stephen Tencer

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