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Despite Fierce Struggles in 38th, Both Parties Claim to Be Bipartisan Choice

While such moves often face opposition from the local power structure, Gordon said, “I sponsored the legislation to make it easier for citizens to circumvent their local government and petition the state directly” to start regionalization or consolidation of municipal functions.

Another measure that Gordon sponsored requires land-use boards to use updated flood-zone maps. One lesson from Sandy, Irene, and other recent storms is that local bodies often have made planning and zoning decisions based on flood maps from the 1970s that do not reflect current hazards, he said.

A bond issue for the state Blue Acres program could help protect waterways and provide more flood protection, Gordon said. Much of his focus in Trenton has been this sort of thing, “very unsexy stuff” that still can have a direct impact on constituents, he said.

On a national issue, Gordon says that by leaving New Jersey’s health insurance exchange to the federal government, Christie has missed out on a chance to offer residents more competition and lower premiums. Under state control in New York, “some people are experiencing 50 percent reductions in their premiums, but I suspect that’s not going to happen here,” Gordon said.

joan fragala
Joan Fragala

Like many people, Alonso said, he is unsure whether the Affordable Care Act is going to be an improvement. He praised provisions to require insurers to cover pre-existing conditions, but the Oradell resident questioned whether federal or state control of the exchanges makes any difference.

“I get nervous when government gets involved,” Alonso said.

Despite Christie’s popularity, the Democrats’ internal polling for the local race continues to be promising, Gordon said. Voters seem happy with the situation in Trenton, and the governor’s coattails look short, he said.

But Alonso may have an ace in the hole. The son of Cuban immigrants directs both the Puerta al Futuro (Gateway to the Future) program for adult immigrants at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and Latino Promise, designed to reach students who might not otherwise have access to higher education. His activities have raised his profile with the party and among ethnic organizations, he said.

Scarpa demonstrates the dilemma and the opportunity for New Jersey Republicans in their party’s changed climate. As the town administrator in Emerson, he has made a career in government and does not shy away from terming it “public service,” anathema in some GOP circles. But he also favors smaller government, and sees places to cut.

That background, and especially his “fiscally responsible” approach to finance, means “I wouldn’t need on-the-job training” in Trenton, Scarpa said. “I’ve done over 40 budgets,” and Emerson did not increase municipal taxes this year, he said.

Emerson is known for colorful politics, and after14 years Scarpa is on the firing line when his current appointment expires at the end of the year after being ensnarled in the town’s tangled web of feuds and lawsuits over political and personal matters.

But he pointed to his continued success as Rochelle Park mayor despite being in the political minority. As “a Republican in a Democratic town,” he has worked cooperatively but also let people know where he stands, Scarpa said.

In Trenton, Scarpa would like to serve on the budget committee because in a $33 billion budget there is bound to be waste and inefficiency, he said. He also wants to limit the number of bills that legislators can introduce. Some are merely posturing or promotional, but almost all have costs to prepare, he said.

Like Alonso, Scarpa sees the lifting of some environmental regulations, such as streamlining permits for clearing debris from streams, as part of the solution to flooding. But as for funding open-space purchases, “I would look very hard at anything that involves any new tax, he said.

The candidates said that except for some disagreements over stiffer gun control, where Democrats want to reduce magazine sizes, social issues have been largely absent from the campaign and from voter feedback.

“I’m an interesting mix on those issues,” Scarpa said. “I’m pro-Second Amendment, pro-life and pro-gay marriage.”

In an educated district, Eustace said gay marriage has not been an issue except for some lingering regret that the Legislature left it to the courts rather than overturn Christie’s veto.

But like his running mates, Eustace believes that gun violence poses a continuing threat to their densely populated communities. The Democrats also chide the Governor for cutting funds for women’s health clinics, something the Democrats all said they will work to restore.

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