The race in New Jersey’s 5th Congressional District has surprisingly become one of the more closely watched races in the nation. No one thought that this district would be as competitive as it has–that is, no one except Roy Cho.
A 33-year-old first time candidate, Roy Cho, a Hackensack resident and a Manhattan attorney, has closed the gap with incumbent Republican Congressman Scott Garrett and has been winning over people throughout the district and across the state.
At a recent event of the New Jersey State Democratic Committee’s Jewish Caucus in Teaneck, Cho spent several hours shaking hands and engaging in conversation with the Jewish Democrats who were eager to speak with him. After addressing the crowd, Cho got a standing ovation accompanied by thunderous applause.
Roy Cho’s energy and excitement have won him a lot of fans, not only in the district that he’s seeking to represent in Washington, but also among the state’s political establishment.
“We are absolutely delighted with how the race has gone and with Roy Cho as our candidate,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg told me. “He’s an excellent candidate, he’s articulate about the issues, and he’s been able to raise enough money to get his message out. He’s made me very proud.”
After referring to Roy Cho as “one of the great up and coming stars,” Senator Cory Booker said that his mother and brother both told him that, “the most exciting politician in the state is Roy Cho.”
“This is a truly amazing human being,” said Senator Booker, referring to Cho. “His grit and determination have dramatically closed the gap with his opponent.”
“If we get him to Congress, I guarantee you this–10 years from now, 15 years from now, you will see one of the more influential leaders in this country,” Senator Booker said.
Referring to the momentum that Cho’s campaign is carrying into the final days of the campaign, Bergen County Democratic Chairman Lou Stellato said that, “Roy Cho’s train is full speed ahead and it’s not stopping until next Tuesday.”
Roy Cho, who has garnered valuable endorsements by The Bergen Record and The Star Ledger, has raised an impressive $1.2 million thus far for his campaign.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with Roy Cho about his campaign and to discuss his relationship with the Jewish community. Throughout the course of the interview, Cho spoke quickly as he displayed the sense of energy and enthusiasm that has come to define his campaign.
“The support that I’ve been receiving from constituents in the district who are Jewish has been truly incredible,” Cho said.
Cho and I discussed his recent journey to Israel, which was his first trip to the Jewish State, where he was able to gain a better understanding of the challenges that the Israeli people are living with on a daily basis.
Cho described his trip to Israel as “really impactful and a very important part of this campaign journey.” “It was a trip that I really wanted to take and I was honored to be able to go there,” he said. “It was a learning experience for me.”
He recounted to me the details of his visit to the Israeli city of Sderot. Although Cho had attended an AIPAC Young Leadership event several years ago where he heard the chief engineer of the Iron Dome speak about the remarkable life-saving technology, it did not compare to traveling to Sderot, seeing how the people live, talking to the residents, and witnessing how they integrate bomb shelters into the children’s play areas.
“My favorite defining childhood memory was jumping onto a bicycle in the suburbs and disappearing for a couple of hours and then coming back for dinner,” Cho said. “The kids in Sderot don’t have that same opportunity.”
“It was a very jarring experience to be able to see what the Israeli people are dealing with on a daily basis,” Cho told me. “Despite all of that, to see how welcoming and open and how friendly, hopeful, and optimistic the Israeli people were, was something that was so refreshing to me.”
I asked Cho how he could play a role in taking steps to ensure the safety and security of Israel as a Member of Congress.
“Israel needs money,” Cho said. “It needs federal funding from the United States to be able to implement programs like Iron Dome and to also allay their security costs that they have to deal with on a daily basis.”
Roy Cho discussed the $3.1 billion of annual foreign aid to Israel, which he called “necessary dollars.” “As a Member of Congress, I want to aggressively advocate for that federal funding,” he said.
“From a foreign policy perspective, I want to be a leader in this debate and I want to advocate aggressively in favor of Israel’s interests, because we recognize that Israel’s interests are America’s interests,” Cho said.
Cho addressed the rise of antisemitism in Europe and noted that that we are seeing Islamist fundamentalists crop up all over the world. “This is something that we have to be very vigilant against, and as a Member of Congress, I want to be able to push past the political rhetoric and recognize that from just a hard security perspective, our interests are Israel’s interests,” he said.
“We have to make sure that we are aggressively advocating on behalf of Israel’s interests because our interests are intertwined,” said Cho. “From a foreign policy perspective as well from a larger cultural perspective, the importance of Israel to America is very, very clear.”
Cho and I discussed the importance of the Jewish community, both in the context of the broader political arena and within the 5th Congressional District.
“The Jewish community is a very sophisticated community that is involved in the issues, whether it’s the cost of day schools, whether it is foreign policy–all the way from local, state to federal issues, American Jewry across the country is very engaged in political issues,” Cho said. “It is a very natural and important constituency, and it also happens to be a large constituency in the 5th Congressional District.”
Roy Cho, a Korean-American who is the son of immigrants, drew interesting parallels between the Korean-American community and the Jewish community.
“I want to be able to find an overlap that does exist between Jewish values and Korean-American values, because there is a tremendous amount of overlap,” he said. “The emphasis on education, the emphasis on a close-knit family, and the emphasis on giving back to the community if you are successful in the private sector–all of these values are shared values that we have.”
“A lot of Korean-Americans have modeled themselves after what American Jewry has been able to accomplish in this country,” noted Cho.
Noting that he appears to be heading into the homestretch of his campaign with a great deal of momentum, I asked Cho what his approach is going to be between now and Election Day.
“Going into the homestretch, we’re going to continue to stay on message and talk about the issues,” he said. “The reality is that people saw this as being an uphill battle for a long period of time, but we recognize the mismatch that exists between Scott Garrett’s representation and the interests and beliefs of the people who live in the 5th Congressional District, and we knew that our message could penetrate.”
“In the 5th Congressional District, we have one of the most highly educated congressional districts in the entire country,” remarked Cho. “The voters who live in this district are not just going to blindly vote on party lines–they’re going to vote on the issues that are important to them–the bread and butter issues that matter.”
“When I walk around the district, I’m talking about the local issues and what impacts them, and asking whether their representative is making votes that are fundamentally mismatched with their own beliefs,” Cho said. “If that is the case, then it’s time for somebody else.”
Noting that he is not only getting support from the Democratic base, but also from moderate Republicans, Cho told me that, “the notion of having someone who can govern from the center has really been resonating.”
Cho called his message “complex and nuanced” but said “he’s fortunate to have a voting electorate that is incredibly sophisticated” and that his message “is penetrating.”
“We believe that we are peaking at just the right time, going into the homestretch,” he said.
Scott Garrett has criticized Cho during the course of the campaign, alleging that he only recently moved into the district solely in order to run for Congress. Cho and his campaign have vehemently rejected this charge and painted it as an attempt by Garrett to distract voters from the real issues in the campaign.
“Scott Garrett’s allegations that Roy did anything improper are completely false,” Cho’s campaign spokesman Derek Roseman told me. “Roy has never lived his life like career politicians like Scott Garrett who plans every move based on serving his political interests. In fact, Roy only decided to run for Congress after deciding to set his roots in Bergen County and realizing how Scott Garrett does not represent the interests of the 5th Congressional District at all.
“Roy is a person just like millions of others who have moved around before finding their permanent home,” Roseman added. “Political and legal experts alike have said he did absolutely nothing improper.
“It’s not surprising that Scott Garrett, the career politician who continues to lie to voters about dragging his feet on Sandy relief in order to distract them from his extreme record of voting against women, veterans, seniors and the majority of his constituents, would turn to such sleazy tactics as a last-ditch effort to save his flailing campaign,” Roseman said.
As he endeavors to deflect his opponent’s political attacks, Roy Cho continues to do what he can to connect with the people in the district and win their support. We will soon see whether or not he will emerge victorious on Election Day, but regardless of the outcome, Roy Cho has demonstrated to everyone that he belongs in the political arena. As he fights to the finish in the 5th Congressional District, this young man has proven his political prowess and solidified his position as a rising star within the Democratic Party.
N. Aaron Troodler is an attorney and principal of Paul Revere Public Relations, a public relations and political consulting firm. Visit him on the Web at TroodlersTake.blogspot.com, www.PaulReverePR.com, or www.JewishWorldPR.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @troodler
By N. Aaron Troodler, Esq.