The 32nd District includes nine communities in Bergen and Hudson counties: East Newark, Edgewater, Fairview, Guttenberg, Harrison, Kearny, North Bergen, Secaucus, and West New York.
This is the most Democratic district in the state, with 55 percent of all registered voters declaring for the “blue” party. About 11 percent of district voters are Republicans, with the remainder unaffiliated or aligning with a third party.
There is a contest in the Democratic primary. Both Assembly incumbents are on the ballot: Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez, an MRI, CT and mammography radiographer specialist who resides in West New York, and Pedro Mejia of Secaucus. Challenging them are Roger Quesada of North Bergen and Mahmoud Mahmoud of Guttenberg.
The Republican ticket includes Ann Carletta of Edgewater, running for the second time, and Francesca Curreli of West New York.
CANDIDATES IN CONTESTED PRIMARY
NJ Spotlight asked all candidates in contested races to fill out a brief survey about themselves and why they are running. These are the responses we received from 32nd District candidates.
ROGER QUESADA: DEMOCRAT
Hometown: North Bergen
Occupation: eCommerce manager
Family: Domestic partnership
Why are you running for the Assembly? I’ve been an activist and community organizer for my whole adult life. Social justice has always been important to me, especially as a gay man. The LGBT community has always been a target of harassment and has been treated like second-class citizens. My struggle is the same intersectional struggle as those suffering from oppression for their legal status in this country, for being a person of color, for being a woman, or for being a Jew, Muslim, Christian; there are just so many people that have fallen victim to overt systemic oppression. They’ve been kept from thriving and being happy. It’s antithetical to the values of the country my parents gave me the privilege of being born in.
I’m running because apart from all those identity issues I mentioned, we’re also facing an enormous existential threat with climate change. All the picketing, chanting and marches may not be enough to combat government inaction and political cowardice. The proposed fracked-gas power plant in North Bergen was the last straw for me. I got tired of talking to Nick Sacco, my mayor and state senator, and feeling like he and all my local elected representatives didn’t feel the urgency I did or the one needed for a problem this big. They didn’t listen, so I decided to run. I’m running to save my community and to chip into the global effort to stop runaway climate change.
What are your three top priorities if elected?
Number one for me is the urgency of climate-change action. We need NJ to adopt a moratorium on all new fossil fuel projects as soon as possible. We need to divest from these energy sources and begin investing, in a smart way, in renewables.
Second (although close second) is healthcare. We need NJ to once and for all admit to all its residents that healthcare is a human right that must be afforded to all. We can no longer be the only industrialized country in the world that cannot “afford” to have healthcare for everybody. This needs to be a priority.
Number three is affordable housing. We have a serious affordable housing issue in Hudson and Bergen counties, and it’s getting worse. We need investments in transportation infrastructure, but to simultaneously protect residents from being priced out of neighborhoods just because they live close to public transport. There are federal and state subsidies that are available, but all projects need to be considered in a holistic way... We need to look at rent laws and affordable-housing requirements for new urban developments and variance applications.
If NJ would support a Green New Deal, this would cover many of the policy priorities I’m espousing.
What makes you the best candidate? I am truly a people’s candidate. I have a long track record of grassroots activism and I will champion urgent issues that I know our district is demanding we tackle. I will not accept corporate PAC money, fossil-fuel money or any outside influence other than the direct demands of my constituents. The political machine of the future is comprised of the people. If Mahmoud and I win, we will ensure our teams both listen to them and respond accordingly. We will be their voices in Trenton.
Occupation: Community organizer
Family: Single, no children
Education: Master’s degree in Public Policy and Public Service
Email/phone: Mahmoudmahmoud11@hotmail.com/(973) 722-6726
Why are you running for the Assembly? I am running for Assembly because I have always wanted to help people. I have been fortunate to hold numerous positions in my professional life where I have been able to support various communities in need. I have worked for the United Nations, the American Red Cross, the Alicia Keys AIDS Foundation, with convicted minors in transition from incarceration, and lead a resettlement program for refugees and immigrants in NJ.
I have also been a community organizer tackling issues around affordable housing, investment in education and safer neighborhoods. I believe my experience and background make me a strong candidate well suited to fight for a secure and dignified standard of living for the people of the 32nd District, and I want to work in the Legislature to bring progress to our communities.
What are your three top priorities if elected? There are various issues in District 32 that need to be addressed. However if I were to be elected, my top three priorities would be affordable housing, transportation, and infrastructure.
Affordable housing — Ensuring that all new developments designate 30 percent of their units as affordable housing. According to several surveys by the federal government, paying more than 30 percent of your income on housing presents a financial burden on households. Residents throughout the district are close to paying 60 percent of their salaries to rent, double what they should be spending to maintain a dignified standard of living.
The government needs to assist those living in the community by requiring developments provide affordable housing in new and existing structures and offering subsidies to those paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent, regardless of age or household size. People should not have to choose between finding a place to sleep at night or paying for food or medical bills. People are being priced out of their communities ... and we want to ensure that New Jersey remains a state committed to diversity in income.
Transportation/Infrastructure — Ensuring that we designate significant investment in quality transportation throughout the 32nd District. Studies show that transit-oriented developments translate into improved access to healthcare, education, and employment opportunities while reducing commuting costs for the citizens who work and live in our community. The Gateway Tunnel project, connecting District 32 to New York City would improve the standard of living for many citizens who work and commute from this district. This project will increase property values, reduce traffic delays from the Lincoln Tunnel and George Washington Bridge, and reduce dependency on the Lincoln Tunnel, which was severely damaged in Hurricane Sandy and continues to be vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Environment — Hiring a sustainability environmental director for every municipality across the 32nd District and throughout the state of New Jersey to ensure that clean, green energy is included in development and infrastructure projects. We must lessen our dependency on harmful projects like the Keegan Landfill in Kearny, the Toxic Superfund Site in Edgewater, or the North Bergen Power Plant that will not provide energy to the people of North Bergen. New Jersey has a bad reputation across the country for chemical plants and it’s time we brought attention to how much these projects contribute to climate change and the destruction of our environment.
What makes you the best candidate? I believe the primary job of a representative is to listen to their constituents and to find the best solutions for a community. This is why I have spent this campaign knocking on thousands of doors across every city in the district, listening to our residents and learning about the issues that affect their lives. Personally, I have experienced many of the hardships that affect our district, including living off a modest salary that doesn’t keep up with the cost of living, experiencing housing distress, caring for an ailing parent, and an inability to afford decent healthcare.
I understand the difficult decisions that must be made in a household of limited financial means, and I want to work to better the situation of families throughout the district. I believe my professional experience, my life experience, and my courage to speak out and fight for the dignity of all people make me the best choice for the people of the 32nd District.
ANGELICA JIMENEZ did not respond to the survey request.
PEDRO MEJIA did not respond to the survey request.