The Democratic primary in South Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District pits David H. Cole, a mainstream Democrat with White House experience, against Constantino “Tino” Rozzo, an admirer of Bernie Sanders who currently serves as national chair of the American Labor Party. The winner will challenge Republican Frank A. LoBiondo, an 11-term incumbent.
Cole, a software engineer and entrepreneur, ran for the seat in 2014, losing the primary to Bill Hughes Jr. He got his political start organizing New Jersey volunteers for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and held the post of senior advisor for technology at the White House in 2010 and 2011.
Rozzo has run for Congress three times, governor twice, and once for state assembly. In 2014 he ran on the American Labor Party line for Congress. The security guard and businessman is a former member of the Socialist Party USA. He advocates a progressive and socialist agenda and supports the policies of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
LoBiondo has won with substantial margins even though the district has gone Democratic in every presidential race since 1992 except 2004. He defeated Hughes, son of the Democrat who represented the district between 1975 and 1993, with almost 62 percent of the vote.
The district is the largest in the state, including a long stretch of the Jersey Shore hit by Atlantic City casino shutdowns, the recession, and Hurricane Sandy . Cumberland County is one of the poorest areas in New Jersey.
Cole described South Jersey as a forgotten land where residents cannot find jobs and wages are declining. He noted it suffers from the state’s highest rate of foreclosures.
“In short, our economy is broken and real people — our family, friends, and neighbors — are paying for it,” he said. “We need a vision to get South Jersey back on track.”
Rozzo said the district has the highest percentage of residents living in poverty and the highest suicide rate. “South Jersey’s economy has always been economically depressed even in good times,” he said, suggesting it can rebound with the introduction of a social economy geared toward the 21st century.
According to Cole, the economy would get a boost from Infrastructure rebuilding and school construction. “Specifically I would look into getting federal funding for school construction,” he said adding many buildings need modernization of their heating and air conditioning systems and installation of wiring to bring more technology into classrooms. He backs the idea of a national infrastructure bank set up by Congress. States would be required to apply for funds that would eventually come from private sources. “Put public money behind it to start it and bring in private money,” he said.
Cole said job growth can be aided by giving employers incentives to hire veterans and the long-term unemployed and removing the tax incentives that go to firms sending jobs overseas. He believes the key to putting people back to work is making commonsense investments.
“We need an economy that supports mothers and families, including support for when the unthinkable happens,” said Cole. “We’ve made some progress: The Affordable Care Act includes provisions to make gender discrimination in pricing and health insurance policies illegal while the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act gives women more tools to fight discrimination. I am proud to say I was a part of the communications team at the White House when we worked to pass these bills.”
Rozzo advocates the introduction of eco-industrial parks where natural products are transformed for other uses and new fuels are developed. These types of businesses, he said, would create better paying, meaningful jobs so people do not have to work two or three part-time jobs to earn a living.
The candidates point to rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure as essential.
Rozzo said job creation can be realized through development of new public works projects for improved and expanded public transportation such as Amtrak and light-rail systems and urban revitalization of inner cities. His source for funding those initiatives comes at the expense of the nation’s military.
“When you look at the economy, it’s just a matter of restructuring the national budget,” he said. “We could easily take 90 percent of the military budget. A lot of that money could be easily reallocated so everyone could have a public works job.”
Cole said the country should “invest in transportation repair and expansion projects that will create millions of jobs nationally and open new economic opportunities.”
Cole said students need increased access to technology and to learn computer science so they have the necessary skills to get jobs.
Rozzo proposed providing quality education for all students nationally with funding coming from a progressive income tax and by eliminating tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. “We need to invest in public education with equalized, per pupil funding to ensure quality education for all,” he explained. “We need to provide free post-secondary education for all U.S. residents.” Rozzo proposed funding free college by raising corporate taxes.
While concurring that tax reform is needed, Rozzo and Cole propose different ways of going about restructuring the tax code.
Under Rozzo’s plan sales and property taxes would be abolished and replaced by a progressive income tax. He portrayed the graduated income tax as a way to distribute the tax burden more equitably, compared to sales and property taxes, which have a greater impact on the working and middle classes. He claimed a graduated income tax would bring in a surplus while a flat tax would cause “record deficits.”
Cole’s recommendation to make the tax code more equitable is to expand the brackets to bring in more revenue. “What I would support is adding a couple extra brackets at the top end for people earning more,” Cole said.
Cole, who worked on affordable healthcare while part of the White House staff, acknowledged that Obamacare is not “a perfect bill, but I think it’s done a lot of good.” Areas that should be addressed are the cost, which he described as still too high, and enabling and encouraging more people to buy into Medicare.
Rozzo said a national single payer healthcare program is the right direction and should be funded by decreased military spending. His plan calls for hospitals to be publicly owned or operated as non-profit facilities not as profit making entities. The community based approach would include locally based health clinics located in schools, residential areas and large businesses.