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Assembly Race: Legislative District 18

A familiar tale in the 18th, two Republican hopefuls look to unseat a pair of powerful Democrats.

Two hopeful Republicans, Marcia Silva and Joseph Sinagra, are working to unseat the Democratic incumbent Assemblymen Peter J. Barnes, III and Patrick J. Diegnan in the heavily Democratic 18th District.

Barnes has served on the Edison City Council for 12 years and was its president for two. He has been in the Assembly since 2007 and currently is serving as Majority Whip. He chairs the Judiciary Committee.

As a lawyer, Barnes handles litigation cases mostly in the state courts in central New Jersey and is the past president of the Middlesex County Bar Association. “I like to think that I came to the table with a lot of experience before I served in the legislature,” he said.

Barnes was endorsed by the Sierra Club and the Service Employees International Union’s New Jersey State Council. To the Assemblyman, the four most important issues in New Jersey are jobs, property taxes, the environment and helping businesses.

“There’s no question that the recession has really affected New Jersey in a really profound way,” he said.

In the budget committee, Barnes focused on funding transit hubs and making cities aware of grants and programs available. He has sponsored bills to entice businesses to enter New Jersey and for capping property taxes.

Diegnan, his running mate, has served in the Assembly since 2002. He chairs the Education Committee and serves as Deputy Speaker and Parliamentarian.

The most important issue to him is education.

“It’s becoming the hot topic in the state, concerning charter schools, vouchers,” he said. “I think there should be community support for charter schools. I don’t support vouchers.”

Diegnan sponsored a bill, which passed the Assembly on a bipartisan basis, to require that charter schools be approved only after a referendum in each municipality affected.

Like his running mate, Diegnan believes another important issue in the state is job creation.

“We really just have to come together and spread economic growth in New Jersey,” he said. “We have to reevaluate our property tax structure; it is just so burdensome.”

Diegnan labeled Silva and Sinagra extremists.

“My opponents have publicly stated support for the Tea Party, and that certitude is not healthy for the process,” he said.

But Silva, who is a public defender, denies this charge.

“The other side has tried to align me with the Tea Party and other groups that I’ve never had anything to do with in my life,” she said. “I’m more of a centrist.”

Democratic East Brunswick Mayor David Stahl endorsed Silva in a surprise move in September and Silva said that has helped her chances.

“The people I’ve spoken to door to door have said to me they’d be supporting me because of the mayor’s endorsement,” she said.

Taxes and creating jobs are her big issues.

Silva is optimistic about her chances.

“People should vote for me because I’m different, but I’m ordinary,” she said. “I’m the average person, and I’m not a politician, and I will always put the people first.”

Sinagra works for Miele as a facilities manager, has owned and operated several small businesses and served on the Helmetta Borough Council for nine years. He ran unsuccessfully in 2007 and 2009 for the Assembly and was a congressional candidate in 2005.

Although Barnes cites his small business experience to counter his opponents, Sinagra -- along with Silva -- received the Independent Business Federation endorsement early in October. The Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey also endorsed Sinagra.

Sinagra’s big issues are taxes, jobs, and the economy.

“I plan to lessen some of the mandates that are placed on business owners and eliminate some of the taxes that place burdens on small businesses, helping them to expand and grow and be able to hire more people,” he said.

Sinagra think he understands the importance of serving others, a quality he feels his opponents do not have.

Said Sinagra, “It seems to me they’re more concerned about holding their own job than representing the people of the state.”

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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