In this off-year election, where many of the districts have relatively tame contests, the 11th District race for Assembly featuring five candidates seeking two seats has shaped up to be more competitive than many others in New Jersey.
The 11th was substantially changed when the districts were redrawn after the 2010 census. That has Republican Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande running in a large swath of new territory. Casagrande currently represents the neighboring 12th District.
A resident of Colts Neck, Casagrande joined the lower house in 2008 and is both the youngest member of the current Legislature and the youngest woman ever elected to an Assembly seat.
“Passing the pension and health benefits reform bill was a sign for me that we could really get some big things done if we stay committed to putting New Jersey back on sound fiscal ground,” she said.
A graduate of Rutgers School of Law, Casagrande is a member of the Assembly’s judiciary, state government and regulatory oversight, and gaming committees. “If you would have told me four years ago that a bill like this would pass, I would have said there was no way. But Trenton is a different place now thanks to Gov. Christie. Having his support as we try to attract and retain businesses, and cut the cost of government at all levels, is making a difference.”
Casagrande is paired with Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, who currently represents the 11th District and also is in her second term. Angelini, of Ocean Township, sits on the Assembly health and senior service, and the human services committees.
Angelini is executive director of Prevention First, which provides educational programs and services to schools, businesses and community organizations as a way to counter the negative effects of substance abuse, violence and bullying.
While in the legislature, she has worked on affordable housing issues and co-sponsored the state’s new anti-bullying law. “My focus is on making New Jersey affordable for people who want to raise a family here, or who have raised a family and want to stay and watch their grandchildren grow up,” Angelini said.
“We’ve made some good progress over the last two years by passing the 2 percent tax cap for municipalities and the pension and health benefits reform bill,” she said. “We need to keep that momentum going by passing the bills in the governor’s toolkit, which will allow towns to share services and consolidate, saving taxpayers even more money.”
To challenge the incumbents in a district that has more registered Democratic voters than Republicans but has traditionally been a Republican stronghold, the Democrats have drafted Red Bank Councilwoman Kathy Horgan and Vin Gopal.
Gopal is the owner of a chain of community magazines and newspapers that have covered Monmouth County for years. He also owns a retail store in Hazlet and has served as a member of the board of directors for the Northern Monmouth County Chamber of Commerce, which could give him cross-over appeal to Republican voters.
This year, Gopal said he decided to run for office instead of working behind the scenes partially because redistricting brought more Democratic communities into the district and removed some Republican strongholds. He and his running mates are billing themselves as business owners and community members who know the area and the issues facing the people, rather than as politicians.
“This district is for Democrats to win,” Gopal said. “It will be about raising the funds necessary to compete and turning out our base. It will be about turning out voters from nonpartisan towns like Asbury Park and Long Branch, giving them reasons to vote in November.”
Democrats were lagging behind the incumbents in the money race, according to campaign finance records filed about a month before Tuesday’s election. In separate accounts, as well as a joint fund with Senate candidate Raymond Santiago, Gopal and Horgan had nearly $83,000. For the Republicans, Casagrande alone had nearly $84,000 and Angelini had $133,000.
On the other hand, the Democrats have received coveted union endorsements from the state’s teachers and public employee unions.
Horgan, who is in her second term on the Red Bank Council and heads its education and technology committee, said the Republicans do not represent the views of district voters.
“While the incumbents may have fit their previous districts, their history of opposition to women’s health care and repeated support for policies that greatly increase the tax burden on Monmouth taxpayers is deeply out of touch with the district they are running in now,” she said.
Horgan, who works for a nonprofit organization dedicated to AIDS research, represents Red Bank on the Monmouth County Scenic Byway Expansion Initiative. She is past president of the Red Bank Borough Education Foundation. She joined the race late, in the middle of September, after restaurateur Marilyn Schlossbach withdrew after Hurricane Irene damaged some of her businesses.
Finally, Daniel Jacobson is running for an Assembly seat as an independent and could be a spoiler to the Democrats. A part-time political gadfly, Jacobson previously served one term in the state Assembly between 1990 and 1992. He now owns the Tri-City News, which is based in Asbury Park.
Jacobson is one of the biggest supporters for Asbury Park’s redevelopment and uses his newspaper to unabashedly promote Asbury Park issues and to criticize anything he believes is bringing the city down.
He is ardently pro-choice and in favor of same-sex marriage and said government has no place in such issues.
“My beliefs are united by one thing — a knee-jerk reaction against the concentration of power, wherever it may be found,” Jacobson said. “That includes government employee unions who use mandatory dues to elect those sitting across the bargaining table … powerful corporations and big media.”