Ask Jose Arango and Mark Smith to name the main issue in New Jersey’s 8th Congressional District and they give the same answer: jobs.
Their agreement may seem surprising, considering that Arango is chairman of Hudson County’s Republican Party and Smith is the head of the Democratic organization.
But there’s no ignoring the hard times the weak economy has brought to Hudson County, where federal labor statistics put the unemployment rate at 11 percent for August, with 34,616 people looking for work and unable to find it.
Of course, Arango and Smith offer different solutions to the county’s jobs shortage. Arango says it’s time to get rid of the Democratic incumbents – from President Barak Obama on down to Sen. Robert Menendez and Rep. Albio Sires.
“The Democratic machine’s support of Obama is basically protecting Big Business,’’ said Arango, criticizing Obama’s health-care program, which Sires supported. “Goldman Sachs and Chase aren’t being hurt by it. But it affects the little corner hardware store or the Mom-and-Pop grocery.’’
Smith, meanwhile, argues that the Democrats are the only hope the district’s blue-collar residents have for improved job opportunities.
“Forty-percent of the union trades people in Hudson and Bergen counties are out of work,’’ said Smith. “That’s why we need Albio. He produces for working-class Americans.’’
The newly-drawn 8th District covers a large chunk of Hudson County, including all of the densely-populated North Jersey municipalities and Jersey City’s downtown area. The district also spills into part of Elizabeth in Union County, Belleville and part of Newark in Essex County, and Fairview in Bergen County.
Four of the five candidates are from Hudson – Sires from West New York, Republican Maria Piniero Karczewski from Bayonne, and independents Stephen DeLuca from Jersey City and Herbert Shaw of North Bergen. The fifth is Pablo Olivera of Newark.
Political pundits have christened Sires’ challengers as token opposition. Indeed, two weeks before the election, Karczewski didn’t even have a campaign sign in front of her own home. Neither she nor any of the three independent candidates had raised any money for the race through the end of September, according to federal campaign finance reports.
In contrast, Sires has spent more than $577,000 during the current election cycle and has another $106,000 left in reserve, the reports show.
Neither Sires, Karczewski or Olivera agreed to be interviewed for this story despite numerous attempts to contact them.
DeLuca, an attorney who unsuccessfully ran as a Republican in last year’s race for Hudson County executive, said Sires is ducking what he called a less-than-stellar track record.
“I don’t see him addressing any of the issues facing this district,’’ said DeLuca. “I barely see him addressing any issues at all.’’
DeLuca said Sires was sole sponsor on just three pieces of legislation approved in Congress during his six-year career, including one that authorized the creation of a memorial honoring former New York Times photographer Dith Pran and another in recognition of high drowning rates.
“I understand he may have had some difficulty getting things passed these last two years when he was in the minority, but in his first four years, the Democrats held the majority,’’ DeLuca said. “What’s he been doing down there all this time?’’
DeLuca asserted that he would be a more effective legislator than Sires. The independent said his three law degrees and experience as an attorney in the U.S. Department of Commerce have prepared him for dealing with the trade issues that are pivotal for a district that includes the nation’s second-largest seaport. There are too many imports coming off the ships at Port Newark and Port Elizabeth, he said, and too few exports being sent abroad.
“We’ve got to change that dynamic,’’ DeLuca said.
DeLuca called himself a “budget hawk” who would not have supported Obama’s health-care overhaul or his fiscal policies, as Sires did. He said Obama’s health program has forced small businesses to choose between three unappealing options: cutting back on their workforces, hiring temporary employees for whom they do not have to provide health benefits, or simply ignoring the law and paying the resulting penalties.
“A lot of them have decided that it’s cheaper to pay the fine,’’ said DeLuca.
Shaw, who runs under the “Politicians Are Crooks” slogan, also says Sires shares the blame for Hudson County’s economic woes. Shaw said Sires did little during almost two decades as an elected official to prevent factories in the region from shutting down. “If you lose factories, you lose jobs,’’ Shaw said.
Shaw’s outline of his foreign policy views included a brief discussion of the demise of the League of Nations about 90 years ago as well as the importance of the World War II battle at El Alamein. He said America ought to continue its support of Israel.
“Israel is the only nation that’s willing to fight for us,’’ Shaw said. “They are the only nation that’s willing to put their people on the line. They are dependable allies.’’
Karczewski’s campaign website doesn’t say anything about her positions on foreign policy issues, other than that she wants to “strive for economic and energy independence for America.’’
As for domestic issues, her site says she wants to “tackle the nation’s debt crisis with common sense solutions,’’ but doesn’t say what those solutions are. Her campaign site says she will “work to create and retain jobs,’’ but doesn’t say how she would do that. She also promises to “put a stop to wasteful government spending,’’ but doesn’t give examples of expenditures she would cut.
On his campaign website, Sires focuses on domestic issues and makes it clear he backs Obama’s economic policies. The incumbent affirms his support of the so-called “Buffet rule,’’ the Obama administration’s assertion that millionaires should pay a tax rate of at least 30 percent.
He also points out that he voted in favor of Obama’s Recovery Act “because he knew that the economy needed a boost to begin moving in the right direction again. Now he’s fighting for more job training and placement programs that connect workers with the skillsets and job markets with opportunities.”
On other issues, Sires opposes the privatization of Social Security, praises Obama’s heath-care program because he argues that it protects Medicare, and supports the so-called DREAM Act because he says it “gives responsible current residents a path to citizenship.”
Olivera outlines a three-pronged platform on his campaign Facebook page. The Essex County independent says he wants:
• To increase funding for education both public and higher education.
• To have a national health-care program for every citizen, with one single program for the entire country.
• To create jobs by given companies tax breaks, to attract U.S. companies overseas to come back to this country. Companies that refuse would pay high tariff costs.