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Assembly Race: District 17

Odds are long, but Republican rookies believe voters want change as they take on Statehouse veterans.

Republican rookies for Assembly seats in the traditionally Democratic 17th District are challenging two longtime incumbent Democrats.

Robert S. Mettler and Carlo A. DiLalla may not have the best chances for success, but they both believe the 17th needs new representation.

Mettler said he is running because the leadership in Trenton has made too many commitments, such as subsidizing community colleges, over the years that it has not met. “We’ve had a legislature that wants to go chase the next bright shiny object,” said Mettler, who has served as a mayor and councilman in Franklin Township.

The economy and jobs are the top two issues, with taxes a close third, he said. “But I think you have to get the economy going at a stronger clip in order to be able to address the second issue completely,” Mettler said. “The bureaucracy we have is impinging on the creation of jobs.”

Mettler is aware of his odds but believes people are looking for a change. “In going around to people, knocking on doors, I have said I’m not the incumbent and people begin to smile,” he said. “I think this year is different because people are quite upset about the state of everything. If you’ve been in office for the last 10 years, you have to accept some responsibility.”

DiLalla, a financial consultant, said he has the economical know-how to get the state back on track. His top issues are lowering property taxes, bringing business back to New Jersey, reducing unemployment, and helping senior citizens living on fixed incomes.

“People can’t stay in their houses anymore,” DiLalla said. “They’re forced to move out of New Jersey. We’ve got to bring taxes lower.”

He believes his Democratic opponents have voted too many times to raise taxes. “And that’s the problem with the state,” he said. “(My opponents) are focusing on being very green, which I have no problem with, but that’s not the issue now.”

Democratic incumbent Upendra Chivukula has been in the Assembly since 2002. He is deputy speaker and heads the Telecommunications and Utilities Committee in the lower house.

Though Chivukula’s primary focus is the environment, he believes it is related to what he deems the state’s top issue -- the economy.

“I’m trying to continue to grow the green economy by creating jobs, creating clean energy. Once we grow this economy, we’ll create jobs and be more sustainable,” Chivukula said.

“I’m confident about what I’m doing, and I’ve been really successful in creating jobs,” said Chivukula, who also is active with the National Conference of State Legislatures. “I don’t know what my opponents have been doing other than saying, ‘Cut, cut, cut.’”

His running mate, Joseph V. Egan, is a business manager at IBEW Local 456 in North Brunswick. He is the deputy majority leader in the Assembly.

“Jobs are the most important thing that’s driving everything,” Egan said.

“It’s driving health care, every problem we have today is (due to a) lack of decent jobs,” he added, stressing the importance of livable wages and enticing companies to move to New Jersey.

Matthew Kassel is a freelance writer focusing mainly on politics and culture. He is an editorial assistant at Community News Service, a local newspaper group in Mercer County.

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