After re-districting left the 13th District largely Republican, the four challengers looking to unseat longtime incumbent Sen. Joseph Kyrillos Jr. are in for a difficult election.
Hazlet Mayor Christopher Cullen, the Democratic candidate with the most political experience, leads the list of challengers.
Kryillos also faces a fight from the right from Constitution Party candidate Stephen Boracchia. Karen Anne Zaletel of the Keep Monmouth Green party brings a diverse set of concerns she believes are under-represented. Rounding out the ballot is Mac Dara Lyden, an independent.
Kyrillos is the senior managing director of a commercial real estate services firm, was first elected to the Assembly in 1988. He served two terms in the lower house before winning his current seat in 1992.
He sits on both the Senate Economic Growth and Judiciary committees and has increased his party profile by serving as the chairman for Mitt Romney's 2008 Presidential campaign and Chris Christie's successful run for governor.
Kyrillos has sponsored bills to promote jobs and local businesses, such as the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Planning Authority Act and the Business Employment Incentive Program. He also sponsored many of Gov. Christie's “tool kit” initiatives to complement the 2 percent cap on property taxes. Kyrillos did not respond to calls to comment on his campaign.
Cullen acknowledges it will be difficult to unseat a popular and long-term senator, but said Democrats do get elected in Monmouth County.
“Some of the area (in the 13th) is Republican-leaning,” he says, “but it's not true of the whole area. It's a pendulum and goes both ways.”
Cullen maintains the strategy he and his team have devised will resonate with voters who he believe have grown fed up with the direction of the state.
“Our talking points have been to return sanity to the state,” he says. “People like teachers, police, firemen, and public works employees are all getting laid off. They've been demonized as people who get these big, huge pensions. These are the people who do all the work in the state.”
A lifelong resident of Hazlet Township, Cullen also has served as a committee member of the town, where he has worked to preserve open space and keep property taxes stable. As a former liaison to the police department and an 18-year member of Operating Engineers Local 68, Cullen said he is in position to understand how these groups have been hurt by the current administration.
“We're sticking up for middle class,” said Cullen, adding he was unhappy the state usurped the union’s right to negotiate. “That's something they've had forever, they just took it away and now you can't negotiate.”
On the campaign trail, Cullen said his union membership and pro-union approach have served him well with regular voters. “People are so fed up with politics, and that's one of my selling points -- I'm not a rich career politician.”
Boracchia, the furthest to the right of all of the senatorial candidates and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, said he sees far too much government in everyday lives and is determined to change that.
“I've always been interested in politics,” he said, “but I became more so when I moved to New Jersey.”
Boracchia, who sells fuel additives, points to the high cost of schooling and property taxes that pay for the schools as two of the issues he'd change first if elected.
Towns should also have the “final say” in development decisions, he said. “Trenton should not be telling our towns how much affordable housing they should have, or how much we should pay for schools, because we know what we need and we live here.”
Government also oversteps its boundaries in judicial decisions regarding schools and housing issues, Boracchia said. To change this, he supports the direct elections of judges. “This way, if you get a bad judge you can get them out. They do it in Pennsylvania and New York and it seems to work.”
He supports Christie’s efforts, but say they have not gone far enough.
“We're more conservative in the Constitution party,” Boracchia said. “In that regard, if you're really a Republican-leaning individual and you're not happy with the way things are being run, we're the answer.”
Zaletel, a retired stockbroker and former vice president of a brokerage firm, is representing the Keep Monmouth Green Party, which she describes as a coalition party of unlikely bedfellows. “We're a combination of the Green Party, the Tea Party, and the Green Tea Patriots Party,” she said.
Zaletel, who became a Green Party member in 2006, says it was her support for organic gardening and farming and the need for alternative and renewable energy resources, such as solar, wind, tidal and geothermal energy, that prompted her to join.
If elected, she would support state regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, funding for the development of alternative and renewable energy, and financial incentives to farms to produce biofuel crops.
“We're also the Tea Party,” she says of the coalition. “We're taxed enough already by Trenton and Washington.”
Zaletel would start to cut taxes by eliminating the lieutenant governor’s position, saving $141,000. “It's definitely unnecessary,” she said. “We already have a chain of command in government.”
Along with pushing for stricter environmental legislation, Zaletel is seeking term limits for legislators and lower property taxes.
“A two term-limit is necessary,” says Zaletel, adding Kyrillos has been in office far too long. Term limits would “eliminate the need for government officials' pensions and thereby save taxpayers money.”
A union member, Zaletel is looking to increase spending to stimulate jobs, something consumers have been reluctant to do in the tough economic climate.
The final candidate is Mac Dara F. Xavier Lyden, the owner of America's Best Homes and Realty. He has served on the planning and zoning boards in Middletown, as well as on its school board. Lyden has been unsuccessful in previous attempts to win seats in the state Assembly and Senate and in Congress. He did not return calls to discuss his campaign.