U.S. Congressional Race: District 8

Matthew Kassel | May 24, 2012
How well can Democratic incumbent Democrat Albio Spires withstand Michael J. Shurin's 'guerrilla campaign'?

Two Democratic candidates — Michael J. Shurin and incumbent U.S. Rep. Albio Sires — are squaring off for their party’s nomination in the 8th Congressional District.

Sires currently represents District 13, but last December the districts were redrawn and the 13th essentially became the 8th as a result of population changes and New Jersey’s loss of its 13th congressional representative.

The redistricting has resulted in a something of a game of musical chairs, and the most closely watched Democratic primary in the state — and beyond — between Steve Rothman and William Pascrell. Essentially, Pascrell’s district was 8, but now he legitimately lives in the 9th; Rothman was in the 9th, was redistricted into the 5th and then moved back into the 9th.

That basically leaves the 8th in contention.

The district primarily comprises municipalities in Hudson County, with some from Bergen, Essex and, Union counties. Jersey City and Bayonne (in Hudson) and Newark (in Essex) are split between two districts.

In the wake of redistricting, the new 8th lost Carteret, Perth Amboy, and Woodbridge Township, all in Middlesex County, as well as part of Kearny in Hudson and part of Linden in Union. It gained Fairview in Bergen County and Belleville in Essex County.

A congressman since 2006, Sires has gained support from wide a variety of groups: ActBlue (a Democratic Political Action Committee), the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, among others.

Brigid Harrison, a professor of political science and law at Montclair State University, said that Sires, who denied requests to discuss his campaign, has support from “nearly all of the standard interest groups.”

Sires had raised about $430,000 and had nearly $230,000 on hand as of May 16, 2012, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission. That compares starkly with Shurin, who had raised about $23,000 and had about $11,000 on hand with a $22,000 debt as of March 31.

Shurin, a 25-year-old, lives in Jersey City and left his job as a computer programmer to work on his campaign for U.S. Congress. Like his opponent, Shurin is a graduate of St. Peter’s College in Jersey City. He said the top issues in the district are drug policy and balancing the federal budget.

Shurin said that he has been using a “guerilla campaign style,” using social media to get his message across.

Alluding to his guerilla tactics, Shurin said, “I just say that because I don’t have the organization the way the establishment does.” He added that he doesn’t have the infrastructure to do a traditional campaign, where a candidate has, say, “1,000 people” sitting in a call center and working the phones.

Shurin also said it’s guerilla-like because he has done little things that he hopes will culminate over time: advertisements in newspapers (including a front-page ad in the Jersey Journal) and using Facebook and Twitter and similar applications.

Harrison explained that in a primary like this, with a relatively entrenched incumbent, “typically the incumbent usually walks away rather handily, so we tend to think of these as not being really highly contested.”

But Shurin disagreed: “I think I have a chance of winning, as long as I get my issues out there.”

Harrison said that the district is not quite majority-minority district, since most of the constituents represent a racial or ethnic minority. But, she added, because its large Latino population almost meets that criteria, “it tends to be a rather liberal district.”

Hudson County “is like a small New York,” said Jose Arango, chair of the Hudson County Republican Party. “There used to be a prominent Cuban-American community in North Hudson, and now there’s a prominent Latin American community, with Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Dominicans.” Sires is a Latino.

Until recently, two Republicans were vying for the GOP nomination in the district. But Anthony Zanowic withdrew from the primary race after Richard E. Karczewski, Jr. challenged him, leaving Maria Karczewski the only Republican candidate on the District 8 ballot this year.

Karczewski, who is 52, lives in Bayonne and works as an office administrator. She studied business management at St. Peter’s College, in Jersey City, and has served for many years as a municipal councilwoman in Bayonne.

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