All three Democrats vying for the right to challenge the conservative Republican who represents the 5th District in Congress may be from Bergen County, but the similarity ends there.
There’s a former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq. There’s a political organizer who follows the LaRouche movement. And there’s a local elected official who is also a champion pumpkin chucker.
The winner of next Tuesday’s primary is going to need to be a champion campaigner to defeat five-term Rep. Scott Garrett, who has $1.8 million on hand to defend his seat.
“I think, ultimately, Scott Garret is going to have more money than I will -- but I don’t think that I need to outspend Scott Garrett to win,” Teaneck’s Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen, 38, said of potentially running against the GOP incumbent, who faces two challengers in the Republican primary but is expected to prevail.
Joining Gussen on the ballot are Jason Castle, 30, the former Marine from Cliffside Park, and Diane Sare, 46, the Lyndon LaRouche Democrat from Bogota.
“If you asked me in December, I would’ve had no desire to take on my sitting congressman, which would’ve been Steve Rothman,” said Gussen, who works in the insurance industry, of District 9’s current Democratic representative in the House.
The 2010 Census led to New Jersey being redistricted from 13 seats down to 12, and resulted in Rothman being drawn into Garrett’s district. Rothman opted to move to Englewood to challenge fellow Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell in the primary to represent the newly drawn 9th District.
The Democratic primary field in the 5th offers voters three very different candidates. For instance, Sare is calling for the impeachment of the leader of the party: President Obama.
“Take the case of Libya,” Sare said. “This was a war which was run almost entirely by the United States, with N.A.T.O. as a fig leaf of a cover. In this case, we were bombing there. We did have troops on the ground … (Obama) never once went to Congress to get authorization. That’s an impeachable offense right there.”
Sare, who has been affiliated with LaRouche since the 1980s and has been a political organizer for the last eight years, also is seeking to reinstate the banking regulation law known as the Glass-Steagall Act. The 1999 repeal of that law, which limited commercial bank securities and was meant to control speculation, was “the main reason we are in this massive economic disintegration,” Sare said.
Castle, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is campaigning on more familiar themes.
“We’re mired right now in unemployment, we have an unfair tax code, we have men and women abroad,” said Castle, adding he wants to safely bring back U.S. military who are serving overseas.
Castle said Garrett is one of many congressmen who’ve become more comfortable with power, rather than serving the people who elected him.
“They need to focus on advocating for their constituents, and they’re not,” continued Castle, who sells computer equipment to Fortune 100 companies. “Clearly they forgot that they are serving at the privilege of the people. That’s what’s fueling my passion and conviction to run.”
Castle said that if he’s elected, he would like to generate support in Congress to incentivize universities and colleges to enter into partnerships with organizations that teach trade skills.
“People who have lost jobs, people who have lost professions, [need to] learn a new skill or profession,” Castle said. “They’re going to be much more employable.”
Gussen said he would be the best pick of the Democratic field because of his experience in elected office.
“This isn’t just a debating club,” said Gussen, in his sixth year on Teaneck’s governing body. “It’s a level of experience and maturity that just can’t be glossed over. There’s a real big difference with having sat on the dais … and tasked with making those decisions, and tasked with making those people’s lives better.”
All of the candidates said they back President Obama’s recent statement in support of same-sex marriage, however, all said they believed there were much more pertinent issues facing the electorate in 2012.
Each candidate had a different position on implementing what Obama touts as the Buffett Rule, which would, among other things, raise the capital gains tax rate from 15 percent to 20 percent.
“Unless the Glass-Steagall Act is reinstated so most of the ‘toxic paper’ can be written off, these taxes are irrelevant,” Sare said. “Lyndon LaRouche proposed such a thing back in 1993. Now the horses have left the barn, and nothing short of a Glass-Steagall break up of the banks, coupled with a return to the American System of credit and national banking will work.”
Gussen said he’d implement the Buffett Rule more judiciously. He said people whose primary income is derived from capital gains should face a higher tax rate, as opposed to people who earn capital gains, but whose income comes primarily from salary or another source.
“I think I’d like to see a situation when it’s a small percentage of your income, you should enjoy the benefits of … capital gains and should get taxed at a lower rate,” Gussen said.
Castle described the entire tax code as incredibly complicated and rife with loopholes for corporations, and said he firmly supports the Buffett Rule. He said the current capital gains tax rate is not fair.
“I believe it is lower than where it should be,” Castle said. “What that number should be, I can’t tell you.”
All three candidates also took varied stances on the healthcare law that is under review by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to rule next month on its constitutionality. Sare flatly rejected the Affordable Care Act, saying it is “not affordable and does not guarantee care.”
“Like the T-4 euthanasia plan of the Nazis, Obama’s [Independent Payment Advisory Board] gets to determine who is a ‘useless eater,’” Sare said. “If you are deemed to not be a good investment, based on statistics for people your age, weight, medical history … you will be denied care.”
Gussen said he has reservations about the law as it’s currently written.
“I think looking at it now, I think there are some critical issues with it … the way it handles the individual mandate,” Gussen said. “There needs to be a solution to the runaway costs of health care, and there needs to be a solution for people to have access [to affordable care]. I don’t know that this law in its form is the best possible solution for either of them.”
Gussen said that regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, there likely would be some revisions made to the legislation.
“We can’t lose sight of the two main goals of affordable and available healthcare,” he said.
Castle said he would have voted for the healthcare law.
“No bill is 100 percent, and I don’t think this one is,” Castle said, later adding, “I think that it is a great start when we had nothing before.”
Castle, too, conceded he is not a legal expert, and is curious to hear what the Supreme Court will rule regarding the requirement that people purchase a government-approved healthcare policy or face a fine.
“The average family is paying $1,000 annually more for healthcare costs because of individuals who are uninsured,” Castle said. “If deemed constitutionally sound, then I’m in agreement with that. That’s why we have the Supreme Court.”
All three candidates say they’ve been putting miles on their cars to spread their various messages.
Gussen, for instance, said he’s spent a great amount of time over the last decade in Warren County participating in “Punkin Chunkin” contests -- competitors build contraptions that launch pumpkins great distances.
“So that’s where we work on our catapult, and we’ve been doing that for the last 10 years,” Gussen said, adding he and his team of chunkers are six-time world champions.
He said he’s spent plenty of time both in Warren and Sussex counties meeting potential voters.
Castle said that he’s logged more than 12,000 miles on his car crisscrossing parts of the four counties that comprise the 5th District.
“I’ve been campaigning heavily in Warren, Sussex and Bergen County,” Castle said. “I try to divide time so I’m equally in all of the district.”
Sare said she’s been campaigning for the past year and a half.
“People have gotten to know me,” Sare said, adding that the terrain of the largely rural 5th District reminds her of where she grew up in Maine. “You meet a lot of very real people who frankly don’t put much weight in either party.”