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Incumbent Democrats Seek to Hold Onto 34th, 36th and 37th Assembly Seats

Candidates list education, commuter transit, sluggish economy and Port Authority reforms among key issues in North Jersey districts

sheila oliver
Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver

The state Assembly races in the 34th, 36th and 37th legislative districts in Bergen, Essex and Passaic counties share several similarities: The incumbent Democrats are seeking re-election in districts where their party boasts the majority of registered voters and the candidates are focusing on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, education, transportation and the economy.

34th District

The 34th District includes Clifton, East Orange, Montclair and Orange. Almost half of the registered voters are Democrats; 8 percent are Republicans, and the rest are unaffiliated.

Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin

Incumbent Democratic Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin of Montclair, the current Assembly majority leader, was first elected in 2005. His running mate is Democrat Sheila Y. Oliver, the former Assembly speaker and first African American woman to lead a legislative house in New Jersey.

They are opposed by one Republican, Clifton resident John M. Traier, a CPA who is chairman of the Passaic County Regular Republican Committee.

If voters return him to the Assembly, Giblin said he plans to address employment and tax issues.

“I think the issue of job creation is probably one of the priorities as far as the state is concerned,” he said. Giblin, a business manager for a labor union, supports placing more emphasis on vocational education and the skills it teaches future plumbers, electricians and carpenters.

“I think there are opportunities out in the trades,” said Giblin, adding that more funding for vocational education could have a big impact in the urban areas.

Oliver, an East Orange resident and assistant Essex County administrator, seeks a seventh term. As a member of the Legislature’s black caucus, Oliver worked to develop its current-term agenda, including education funding, tax credits for the working poor, and lead-paint abatement. She sponsored a bill to prevent school districts from administering standardized tests to students in kindergarten through second grade.

“Instead of tailoring curriculum around these standardized tests and using valuable class time to prepare students for these tests, schools should be focusing on how best to reach these young learners so they can all achieve academic success,” she said in a recent statement.

Her bill passed both houses and is awaiting action by Gov. Chris Christie.

John M. Traier

Traier says local school districts are underfunded and that there is too much reliance on property taxes.

A former Clifton school board member, Traier said he understands pupil costs and thinks a forensic audit is necessary to show where money is being spent.

“I don’t think we need to spend more money on a state level but to spend money more effectively,” he said.

He thinks “the school-funding formula is very discriminating toward middle class cities.”

The candidates agree that taking steps to improve the state’s economy is crucial. Giblin described the 34th as an economically, ethnically and racially diverse district that has dealt with a major employer’s departure and job cuts among public employees and hospital workers in the past few years. The loss of jobs is compounded by high property taxes, making it difficult for some families to make ends meet, Giblin said, adding that he intends to work to ease the tax burden on senior citizens so they can afford to stay in their homes.

Traier said government must have the right tools to keep businesses in New Jersey.

“We need to create jobs,” he said. “We need to get companies into New Jersey, to look at New Jersey as a place where they can do business effectively.”

The need for jobs is apparent in the 34th district, which he said probably has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state.

“The 34th District could certainly do with a more robust economy,” he said.

Clenard Childress

Independent Clenard Childress, a Montclair resident and pastor, is running on the “A Better Tomorrow” line. He previously ran unsuccessfully for the Assembly. On his campaign website he states that years of tax increases to support growing state budgets have driven residents and businesses out of New Jersey. Childress advocates tax reform and states on his campaign website, "I pledge not to vote for any tax increase and seek to relieve the present burden of homeowners."

District 36

Economic concerns carry over into the neighboring 36th District, which encompasses 15 communities in or near the Meadowlands in Bergen and Passaic counties.

Current Deputy Assembly Speaker Gary S. Schaer first won election in 2005. He is joined on the ballot by Ridgefield resident Marlene Caride, an attorney running for her third term in the Assembly.

The Republican slate includes Forrest Elliott Jr. of Wood Ridge and James Lenoy of Carlstadt, a borough council member.

More than a third of the district’s registered voters are Democrats, while 15 percent are Republican and more than half have no party affiliation.

As chairman of the Assembly’s Budget Committee, Schaer said his ongoing concern is the economy.

“The prime issue is of course the economy and creation of jobs, good jobs,” he said. Recovery from the recession has not happened with the economy "at best stagnating.”

Schaer, who is an investment counselor, said economic revitalization on a local, regional or statewide basis has not materialized, which affects revenue collection and program development. He thinks most residents would say they are not any better off than they were four or six years ago.

“New Jersey is not going in the direction it should be going,” said the Passaic resident and city council member.

Schaer was recently named one of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce's legislators of the year for, according to the group, supporting "increases in incentives for companies relocating and expanding in New Jersey." The chamber cited his authorship of the Main Street Business Assistance Program, which provides $50 million in government-backed low-interest loans to growing businesses, as well as his support for a $3,000 tax credit for businesses that create and maintain new jobs for a year.

Caride is vice chair of the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee and a primary sponsor of legislation to subject the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to the state’s Open Public Records Act and New York’s Freedom of Information Law.

She was among the legislators who called for a 90-day delay on the rollout of the controversial OMNIA Health Alliance insurance plan put forth by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of NJ. Caride also sponsored prescription drug-abuse legislation, signed into law, that strengthens law enforcement’s ability to fight illegal drug distribution and drug use and increases civil penalties for prescription drug abuse.

The two GOP candidates, Elliott and Lenoy, did not respond to requests for interviews.

Also on the ballot is perennial candidate Jeff Boss, who is running on the “NSA DID 911” platform. He has also announced he is running as a Democratic candidate for president.

District 37

In the 37th District, covering 13 Bergen County municipalities in the northeastern corner of the state, Incumbent Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Gordon M. Johnson are looking to retain their Assembly seats and are likely to do so, as 43 percent of registered voters are Democrats and just 12 percent are Republican, with most others unaffiliated.

Huttle, a funeral director, is running for her sixth term. Johnson, a former Bergen County sheriff who now works as a consultant, was first elected in 2001. Both Englewood residents hold the post of deputy speaker and offer similar views on transportation and commerce challenges facing the state and their district.

The Republican ticket features Joseph M. Fiscella of Palisades Park and Gino P. Tessaro of Hackensack, who also ran in 2013. Efforts to reach Fiscella and Tessaro were unsuccessful. Huttle ranks Port Authority reform as her top priority. She has been working with her counterparts in the state and in New York to shape reform legislation acceptable to officials in both states. Huttle said they are close to an agreement.

“However, both states need identical legislation to codify it into law,” she noted.

The legislation, if passed, would require the signatures of both governors and she is hopeful it can be finished by the end of this year.

Currently, the Commerce and Economic Development Committee chair, Johnson also would direct his attention to Port Authority reform.

“They need more transparency,” he said of the bi-state agency.

He said steps need to be taken to restore trust and improve service for commuters and the conditions at its bus terminal in Manhattan. Huttle said that, if re-elected, she will work to have a new bus terminal included in the Port Authority’s redevelopment plan.

Both spoke about the proposed extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line into Bergen County as one of their top priorities. The long-delayed expansion of the line would run from its current terminus in North Bergen through Bergen County, most likely ending at Englewood Hospital. Johnson said it would reduce highway congestion and improve the quality of life for residents.

“It’s so needed,” he said, noting the majority of state legislators support it. Johnson hopes the project moves from the environmental review stage in 2016 to the work of procuring funds.

Robin Traum's career has been in the field of communications, and she recently served as the local editor of two Patch news sites. She is a public relations professional with an extensive background in consulting and journalism.

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