A Trio Tired of Status Quo Battles in the 11th District Democratic primary

Joe Tyrrell | June 6, 2016 | Elections 2016
Winner gets to take on the veteran Frelinghuysen
Lee Anne BrogowskiBusiness consultant, 45, Mount Tabor [link:http://www.leeannebrogowski.com|www.leeannebrogowski.com]
Richard McFarlaneDriveway contractor, 47, Haskell [link:http://www.mcfarlaneforcongress.com|mcfarlaneforcongress.com]
Joseph WenzelLawyer, 41, West Orange Facebook: Joe Wenzel for Congress

Lee Anne Brogowski, a former bakery owner turned business consultant, stresses the need for greater diversity in Washington, particularly on issues affecting women and families. She entered the 2014 primary but says she abandoned her campaign because of an ailing child. Brogowski’s ideas are similar to those of Bernie Sanders, she says. Her extensive platform also favors charter schools, term limits “to get rid of cronyism” in Congress and, unusually for a Democrat, an “almost flat tax.”

Richard McFarlane, a “Bernie Sanders activist,” is a member of the Wanaque school board who highlights educational issues. He also presents a compelling life story; unable to speak as a child, McFarlane overcame that problem with therapy only to suffer a stroke at 29. When his health insurance ran out, a federal program paid for cognitive therapy that got him out of a wheelchair. “When people say government programs don’t work, I say, ‘Oh no? Look at me!'”

Joseph Wenzel, a former member of the Clifton school board, was prompted to get back into politics, he says, in frustration over the school shootings in Sandy Hook, Ct. He says the Republican incumbent Rodney Frelinghuysen had a reputation as a moderate but has done nothing “to address gun violence or protection of children in our schools.” As a Hillary Clinton supporter, Wenzel has the backing of the party organizations in three of the district’s four counties.

Effective representation

The United States needs a Congress that reflects its populace and works cooperatively to help all the people, Brogowski says. “My career has been to take on failing projects, working with people at all levels and fixing the problems.” She says that was true when she was running a successful small business and now advising pharmaceutical, energy and finance firms.

McFarlane believes that, like other Americans, 11th District residents “are tired of business as usual in Washington” and want more effective representation. Although Democrats face a challenge trying to unseat a veteran incumbent, McFarlane promises to be “the hardest fighter and the hardest worker.” He says, “I’ve been told beating Frelinghuysen is impossible,” but having overcome personal challenges, “that word doesn’t apply to me.”

Always moderate, the district is getting more so while Frelinghuysen moves right following radical Republicans, according to Wenzel. While the GOP incumbent has seniority in Washington, “he does not fight or object when those hard right elements in his party enact legislation that is not in line with the moderate views of his district,” Wenzel says. The district should have a representative who is not “being co-opted” by outside interests, he says.


McFarlane is passionate about funding for education and particularly special education. His 4-year-old daughter is dealing with a speech impediment similar to the one he had; that highlights the importance of making early testing and therapy available for all children, he says. He maintains such services should be available in all schools, and not be subject to fluctuating local budgets. He favors tuition-free public colleges and universities and a $15 minimum wage.

Wenzel is passionate about curbing gun violence and protecting children in schools. When the Sandy Hook shootings occurred, he thought they would prompt Congress to enact “proactive legislation” on gun violence and related mental health issues, “but there has been nothing but inaction,” he says. Wenzel wants to fund grants to school districts to provide or expand programs such as full-day pre-K and kindergarten.

Brogowski is passionate about increasing educational opportunities and reducing student debt. She supports universal pre-K, as well as school choice in the form of charters. She favors tuition-free state and community colleges. She also suggests service of one or two years in the military, Peace Corps or similar entities. She would eliminate private prisons and promote rehabilitation of non-violent offenders.

Top priorities

Wenzel wants to push Obamacare “to the next level,” but he also voices doubts about whether it is benefitting all participants, especially small businesses. He favors a review and reform of the program. He also wants to promote more cooperation between the political parties on fractious issues. In particular, Wenzel believes that immigration reform should include a path to citizenship for undocumented residents.

Climate change is “the biggest threat to America,” according to McFarlane. Instead of saving the planet, “we’re destroying it,” he says. The Obama administration has accepted climate change treaties, but a recalcitrant Congress has blocked the United States from being a leader on the issue, he says. The country should abandon invasions and regime change as foreign-policy tools, “because those really haven’t worked out very well,” McFarlane says.

Brogowski says her background in technology and business gives her insight into helping the nation switch to an energy system that draws from local sources such as solar panels and windmills rather than massive fossil-fuel plants. Healthcare is “a right, not a privilege,” she says, and sugary drinks should be taxed. Her income tax system would exempt the first $10,000, and set a 15 percent rate up to $250,000, 20 percent above, plus a consumption tax on “non-necessities.”