Democrat Raymond Santiago is challenging Republican Sen. Jennifer Beck in the redrawn 11th District, which covers much of Monmouth County.
The district should give the Democrats a shot at gaining a seat in the Senate, where they already hold a majority, but the Republicans remain confident of victory.
Beck has been serving in the 12th District but was moved to the 11th as part of the spring redistricting. She started her career as chief of staff for arch-conservative Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina before leaving for the private sector, where she ran the Trenton office of MWW, one of New Jersey’s most influential public affairs firms. She is now president of JAB Marketing, a media relations and marketing firm.
Beck served one term in the Assembly before moving up to the Senate. She also served two terms on the Red Bank council from 1999 to 2005, getting re-elected in a strongly Democratic area. She was the only Republican serving on the council at the time.
“I’ve been an advocate for lower spending and controlling property taxes since I was first elected to the legislature in 2005,” Beck said. “Now that we have a partner in the governor’s office who is committed to those things as well, I think we have a chance to make some dramatic changes in the coming years, which will make New Jersey an affordable place to live or own a business.”
Beck recently sponsored laws removing obsolete and sexist language from New Jersey statutes and creating a supplemental loan fund for certain repairs to sewage disposal systems. Beck is also co-sponsoring a measure to try to address Gov. Chris Christie’s line-item budget veto of $7.5 million for women’s health clinics by giving money to country health departments to provide cancer screenings and other health and family planning services. She was the only Republican to vote last July to override one of the governor’s budget vetoes – for women’s health funding.
Beck is also a trustee of the Monmouth Conservation Foundation and a member of the Red Bank Woman’s Club. She formerly worked as a rape crisis counselor at what is now 180/Turning Lives Around, a woman’s antiviolence and crisis center. She earned a Masters in Government Administration from the Fels School of Government at the University of Pennsylvania.
Her opponent is new to state politics. Santiago was Assistant Nassau County District Attorney before moving to Freehold Township to become the owner/manager of a law firm. He is active in the Monmouth County Bar Association, where he serves on the judicial selection and the criminal practice selection committees.
Monmouth Democrats are hoping Santiago and his running mates can help reinvigorate the Democrats in the county. The new 11th Districts has more registered Democrats than Republicans, but undeclared independents far outnumber both.
Santiago lost two races for local elections and said he did not have time to raise a war chest for the Senate race. New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission reports show he had about $23,000 a month before the election, while Beck has $88,000. Santiago hopes the new configuration of the district will give him a boost.
He is running on a platform to improve the state school funding formula so that it is fairer to Monmouth County municipalities. He also is running an anti-Christie campaign, because he said he feels Trenton needs more independent legislators who are not ruled by the governor’s iron hand.
Although he is not on the ballot, Christie is still a dominant force in this election. The Democrats are hoping his somewhat abrasive style and his anti-union stance will help them boost the energy in the Democratic base.
“I’m not a fan of Gov. Christie’s,” said Santiago. “I don’t like the mannerism in which he makes his case. It’s 'my way or the highway.' Moreover, all of this talk of cuts simply forces the towns to raise taxes at the local level.”
The Democrats also received the endorsements of the New Jersey Education Association and NJ AFL-CIO.
Garden State Equality, which is pushing for another vote in the legislature to legalize same sex marriage, has endorsed all the candidates in the 11th with the exception of Casagrande. Casagrande was not endorsed because she has not publicly stated her position. Beck, however, who voted against the measure two years ago, now says she would vote to allow same sex marriages.
The original version of this story incorrectly reported the number of candidates that Garden State Equality has endorsed. That mistake has been rectified in this version. NJ Spotlight regrets the error.