Teaneck—In this day and age of heated policy rants, scandals and extreme positions, it’s rare to find an old-fashioned Democrat, a fiscal conservative and a social progressive who says he is interested in working with others and not interested in “partisan rancor,” attacking success or engaging in class warfare. Josh Gottheimer, a former Clinton White House speechwriter and industrial strategist, is working to unseat seven-termer Rep. Scott Garrett, to represent New Jersey’s 5th congressional district, which includes portions of Bergen, Passaic, Sussex and Warren counties.
In an interview at The Jewish Link offices, Gottheimer, who is Jewish, touted his credentials as a strongly identified pro-Israel, pro-business progressive, who has been active in AIPAC and NORPAC for many years. He is on the national board of his college fraternity, AEPi, which he joined as a student at the University of Pennsylvania.
In anticipation of this past week’s Democratic National Convention, Gottheimer released a statement on the party platform in regard to Israel: “I am deeply concerned that inserting language into the Democratic Platform which favors the Palestinians over our key strategic ally, Israel, is both inconsistent with our party and country’s long history and future interests in the region and would greatly undermine the equitable path to peace. Now is not the time to undermine Israel’s security and put at risk their and our safety, particularly given the tentative situation in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and our fight with ISIS. I strongly oppose any effort do so.”
In addition to his strong stance on Israel, Gottheimer’s campaign policies include statements toward alleviating the crushing burden of taxes on district residents, improving civil infrastructure, ensuring a woman’s right to choose, improving veterans benefits and promoting law enforcement. He has been endorsed by the Police Benevolent Association and the New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association. His platform, he said, involves speaking for the middle class.
“Who is speaking for the middle? And when I say middle, I mean [those who] need lower tax rates. I think most people in our community, Jews and non-Jews, are in that middle. You have to be willing to talk to the other side, and you have to say, ‘If I get 80 percent of what I want, that’s good,’ and move on.
“We keep sending people to Washington and giving them a paycheck, and we’ve been paying Garrett’s paycheck for 25 years, and they go to Washington and they don’t come back with any product for us,” argued Gottheimer.
Addressing the topic of taxes directly, he said: “We are in the top 3 percent [of] tax-paying districts in the country. We get 33 cents for every dollar we pay out in federal taxes. The state average is 68 cents. West Virginia, do you know what they get for every dollar they pay out? $4.23. Yet we have roads and bridges and education and law enforcement needs and our local taxes have to make up the difference. This is part of the reason why I believe taxes are a crushing burden on people.”
Gottheimer grew up as part of this “middle” in North Caldwell (his mother was a kindergarten teacher at Temple Beth El in South Orange, his father an owner of a five-and-dime store) and now lives in Wyckoff with his wife, Marla, a lawyer, and two children. He worked for Microsoft from 2012 until he quit to run for Congress, and held previous posts with the Federal Communications Commission, lobbying/strategy powerhouse Burson-Marsteller and the Ford Motor Company, in addition to the White House, where he wrote speeches beginning at the age of 23. Now 41, he began his Washington career at age 16 as a page for New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg. This local boy has also seen a bit of the world and academia; He is a graduate of Harvard Law School, spent a year as a Thouron Fellow at Oxford and has written a book about great American civil rights speeches.
After describing his experience as a Clinton staffer during the Wye River Accords in 1998, he shared his view that peace with the Palestinians was never more in grasp than it was then, yet they did not seize it. “We’ve had to fight for everything. If you internalize what that means you realize we cannot negotiate if there is a remote possibility that it will undermine the hard won progress we’ve made.”
Gottheimer added that his experience working on AEPi’s national board has also shown him the strength of J Street and the various BDS movements that are operating today on college campuses. “I see what goes on in campuses across the country with Temple University and BDS and students getting attacked with swastikas.”
The reason why many people view J Street and BDS similarly is that J Street openly cultivates support from liberal politicians who have not been sympathetic to Israel to take positions in opposition to Israel’s elected government, in the name of helping Israel by showing sympathy for the plight of Israel’s neighbors. They routinely discuss the merits of the so-called Palestinian narrative to the detriment of the physical safety of Jews living in Israel. J Street has deep pockets and a strong lobbying presence. Gottheimer shared the immense pressure he has received from them since beginning his run for Congress. Gottheimer added that J Street has successfully reached many liberal politicians this way, and the fact that the Obama White House has elevated J Street to preferred status on Israel issues is a very big challenge, in his mind, for the Democratic Party going forward.
J Street, which lobbied Congress in favor of the Iran deal, sharply contrasted with AIPAC, who drew a line in the sand against it, drawing considerable heat in the aftermath as it still supported candidates who voted in favor of the deal. Gottheimer sided strongly with AIPAC against the deal, publishing an op-ed in The Times of Israel last August that included a comprehensive list of the myths vs. realities of the deal. “Respect for the efforts of the negotiating team does not overcome the conclusion that this is not a deal that’s in the best interest of the United States or our allies in the region. It lacks sufficient safeguards to address the clear risks associated with the agreement,” he wrote.
Gottheimer explained why “it’s expensive” to not listen to or support J Street. AIPAC has an incumbent rule, meaning they support incumbents if they have been supportive of Israel, which includes Garrett, so while Gottheimer is not taking donations from J Street, he does not have AIPAC’s formal support either, though he could conceivably be receiving donations from AIPAC members. AIPAC does not formally endorse or donate directly to candidates.
However, Gottheimer is not exactly hurting for funds, and with $1.8 million cash on hand when he visited our offices, he had at that point raised more money than his Garrett-challenging predecessors Roy Cho and Adam Gussen combined, who both came close, taking 45 percent of the district’s votes, despite that fact that Garrett spent $1.3 million to defeat Cho in the campaign’s final week, according to the website politikernj.com. Also unlike the Cho race, Gottheimer’s candidacy has been identified by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and he has been designated a “DCCC Red-to-Blue Candidate,” indicating a race for which extra resources will be spent in an effort to pick up the seat. His race against Garrett has also been targeted by the House Majority PAC, a Super PAC that has taken its fight against Garrett to Facebook, to television, to three highway billboards on Route 17 in Bergen County and even to the Jersey Shore, where they had airline banners flying over the July 4 weekend publicizing Garrett’s position against endorsing gay Republicans for office.
According to Gottheimer’s 2015 financial filings, which were reported on by The New York Times, “about one dollar in six came directly from fellow alumni of the Clinton White House and campaigns…or from major donors and employees of consulting firms tied closely to the Clintons.” Garrett’s campaign has consistently used Gottheimer’s ties to the Clinton family as a reason for voters to distrust his candidacy.
Gottheimer has held several fundraising and meet-and-greet events in Teaneck and Bergenfield over the past couple of weeks, including one hosted by Bergenfield Councilwoman Ora Kornbluth. Learn more at josh4congress.com.
By Elizabeth Kratz