2025 Guv Candidates Clash: ‘We Might be Living in Alternative Universes’

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka relished the chance to sit between former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli and sitting state Senator Jon Bramnick, throwing loose elbows at every opportunity, delighted by the prospect of smashing Republican sacred cows. Eyes twinkling, the Democrat seemed amused by the Trump-ravaged straits of the GOP, even as Ciattarelli and Bramnick looked like they won’t be able to get at each other fast enough in a primary brawl for the soul of the New Jersey Republican Party. For the moment, the Republican rivals welcomed the energetically combative Baraka as rep of an unchecked Democratic Party they mutually agree has driven New Jersey’s business community meshuggah.

Baraka, for his part, defended the Democrats’ record on business in this state, and made the case for augmenting certain pro-vulnerable population policies that depend on business taxes, in the name of what he says is a more complex – not just political – understanding of this state’s relationship between business and government. In short, he said, big businesses left unchecked – or enabled by Republicans trying to score political points – will crucify New Jerseyans, specifically poor New Jerseyans.

It said something about the developing 2025 gubernatorial contest, as the trio sat onstage at Harrah’s in Atlantic City at an event sponsored by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, talking about business – and the effects of business – in New Jersey, two Republicans and a Democrat, all of them contenders, and each with a decidedly different point of view.

Micah Rasmussen, director of Rider University’s Rebovich Institute, moderated the March 28th event.

Seated between the two red tie-attired Republicans, Baraka wore purple socks and tie and sneakers. Flanking the mayor, Bramnick and Ciattarelli appeared at all times – even when refuting the mayor – gamely – and sometimes grimly – aware of each other.

Ciattarelli tried to position himself onstage as the uniquely pro-business candidate in the contest but met with frequent defining protestations by Baraka. Bramnick made the case that as governor he would possess the pragmatic skills to better negotiate with Democrats like Baraka to reach consensus.

Ciattarelli hammered a theme he brought up in his 2021 debate with Governor Phil Murphy.

“The state budget’s up 20 billion since Chris Christie,” he said.

Christie, a Republican, submitted his last budget totaling $36 billion.

Now, under Murphy, the budget clocks in at $56 billion.

“Democrats decided to raise taxes and spend money in a way we’ve never seen,” said the Republican.

Baraka jumped in, consistently criticizing Ciattarelli for oversimplifying the situation, in his judgement, in order to fulfil expectations a pro-business Republican opposed to taxes.

“We have to create revenue through some taxes, some econ development and growth,” said the Newark Mayor. “You can’t say you want sound transportation infrastructure and a Transportation Trust Fund, and then increase rates on 50% of the 600k daily riders of NJ Transit, who make $35k or less, and don’t own a car. They can’t afford an increase on fares to pay for transportation in this state. It’s just not sustainable. We have to tax businesses to pay for that.”

“Lowering taxes,” said Bramnick, “is not a gimmick. It’s no gimmick that [people are] moving.”

“Most people are stuck in the cities,” Baraka shot back.

Ciattarelli went on offense.

“Fifty percent of [the state] budget goes to seven towns,” said the former assemblyman, referencing the state’s Abbott Schools funding program. “Are we going to fix this? … This is a recipe for economic lack of growth.”

Making his points, on several occasions the Republican noted New Jersey losing business to Pennsylvania.

“If this guy keeps mentioning Pennsylvania, they may ask you to run for governor over there,” Baraka cracked.

“We have the highest property taxes in the nation,” Ciattarelli said. “Two out of three New Jerseyans say they can’t wait to leave.”

Ciattarelli

 

Baraka countered. “It’s a myopic view to say that we’re going to lower taxes to bring businesses.”

Ciattarelli at one point said of former Governor Christie, “We didn’t always agree, but I’ll say one thing about Chris – he was pro-business. Jack Ciattarelli will be a pro-business governor.”

Baraka tried to fight the perception that he’s simply a big government facilitator.

“It’s possible to have a pro-business government. We’ve brought in Audible and Mars to Newark, while incubating small businesses in a collaborative way as opposed to us versus them. We have to have a pro-business mentality that does not exclude families. New Jersey has to focus not just on the business community but on the people who live there. Somebody has to pay for the infrastructure.”

Bramnick stepped in.

If Ciattarelli was the pro-Trump Republican and Baraka the liberal spendthrift, the veteran state senator from Union County would sit down with both parties and temperamentally succeed at doing the evenhanded work of the people, he said.

“We have one party rule in Trenton,” he said. “But we don’t have a seat at the table. The voters don’t trust our brand. The governor is right side up, and no one is getting invited to the table until we win and until we change the Republican brand.”

Baraka was laughing, as if finding it funny that Republican don’t play in New Jersey.

Bramnick explained that the Trump era, and the party’s obedience to a single presidential candidate, don’t play well to the voting public here.

Republicans, he said, need to be the party of “lower taxes, small government, and law and order.”

Sticking with Trump and letting Democrats win won’t cut it, he argued.

“You need another party there to line item Christmas tree items,” said the state senator.

Ciattarelli fleshed out the idea.

“We have a runaway train budget [under Democrats],” he said.

Democratic Governor Jon Corzine signed a $35 billion budget, which Christie reined back to $29 billion.

“We met the fiscal cliff of the great recession,” Ciattarelli argued. “No one died.”

Baraka hit back.

“We might be living in alternative universes but in Newark [the previous administration] laid off 167 police officers because of what Ciattarelli is laying out here,” said the mayor. “We furloughed every worker in the city government. We saw services decline tremendously. The city went into deep debt. We had a $93 million deficit as we walked into city hall because of the economic cliff we fell off of.”

Bramnick was grinning.

“And this is what you why you want the mayor sitting at the table with a Republican governor, so we find that middle ground,” he said. “We have to show we have a heart, but we also have a pocketbook. We’re going to help businesses and we’re also going to help the families.”

Baraka was ready.

“I’m going to put you on my team,” he said.

Then Ciattarelli obliquely got tough with Bramnick.

He said he liked Christie as a pro-business governor, but signaled a different election strategy, countering Christie’s 2013 dealmaking with powerful Democratic bosses, which strategically sacrificed down ballot Republicans.

Ciattarelli doesn’t assume, he says, that he will have to work with a Democratic legislative majority.

“I am an advocate for my 80 assembly candidates on the ballot in 2025,” he said. “If by chance we are not successful at producing a Republican majority, I will work with the other side. But my job is to produce a Republican majority, or I shouldn’t be asking for the nomination.

“By the way,” he added, “Tom Kean, Sr. did some great things over the years, and he had a Republican majority.”

Considering the fact that registered Democrats number one million more than Republicans in New Jersey, the remarks seemed Pollyannish – or nefarious – depending on one’s political persuasion.

“The government needs to have a bigger perspective than profit and loss, but the taxpayer is still your customer and you can’t forget it,” said Bramnick, like Ciattarelli a business owner.

Not to be outdone, Baraka too insisted on calling himself a business owner.

“I run a multimillion-dollar business called the City of Newark,” he said. “Our investment is people not products.”

Ciattarelli seized on that moment to go big picture.

“Lincoln said government should only do what people and businesses can’t do for themselves but that doesn’t mean government shouldn’t run like a business.” he said.

On another occasion, Bramnick – known as the funniest lawyer in New Jersey – said, “The person sitting next to me will be the commissioner of business.”

Baraka was laughing, as though Bramnick planned to make the mayor of Newark his commissioner of business.

He was, after all, sitting next to Bramnick.

But the senator was actually not kidding, and instead merely making the point that the person he would appoint to look out for businesses in this state would sit right next to him. On this occasion, at least, Bramnick wasn’t going for a laugh, even as the event itself supplied several, both intended and unintended, and signs of collisions to come in this early, friendly, and vital intensification of the 2025 governor’s contest.

Bramnick, Baraka, and Ciattarelli.
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11 responses to “2025 Guv Candidates Clash: ‘We Might be Living in Alternative Universes’”

  1. Two out of three people in NJ want to leave? lol
    Then why are we the most densely populated state in the nation?
    Maybe two out of three Republicans want to leave.
    Anyone who wants to leave is welcome to. We actually need more people selling their houses to satisfy the number of NJ buyers we have.

  2. Somebody needs to look at the ridiculous salary increases Gov Murphy and his democrat administration are giving away to already overpaid Commissioners and their staff!

  3. Tom Kean, Sr. did some great things?

    He created the Transportation Trust Fund to create a mountain of debt where taxes dedicated to roads & mass transit are instead spent on interest payments.

    He won a close election by hiring arms thugs to intimidate Black voters.

    He cut a deal with mob-connected Hudson County politicians to secure power for himself.

  4. Bramnick sounds like the voice of reason here. Baraka is living in a dream and Ciatarelli’s heart is in the right place but he talks a bigger game than any administration can expect to deliver.

  5. Aren’t you the person who fabricated fake petition signatures to get on the democratic gubernatorial primary ballot and ran a spoof NJ Dems website? Isn’t your campaign manager in jail for that?

    We should definitely trust your opinion about corruption lol

  6. Who will fix our schools? The fully funded formula apparently is not working. Zip codes lock children into failing school districts, with no real solutions. There is a shortage of qualified teachers. New Jersey ranks #6 as the most segregated school system in the nation. The majority of NJEA dues are going to fund political ambitions rather than supporting its members in the classroom. It took four years for any legislative actions to address the enormous learning loss due to school closures. The lack of urgency by the Education Department to address the learning loss is staggeringly unconscionable. The recently released commissioned COVID-19 report, indicated the losses would have been far less steep had schools reopened in person earlier. New Jersey’s school were the last in the nation to reopen. The NJEA wields enormous political clout. Part of big business. Which candidate has the fortitude and strategy to honestly address the business of education in New Jersey? That person will earn my vote.

  7. Ciattarelli wants to cut the budget, okay, well last time that happened there were massive layoffs, including police offers , teachers , state workers. Transportation fund has been a mess since the Christie days, who both these Republican candidates are friends with… wonderful….

  8. You can not keep throwing money at a broken system and think that is the answer. Right now there is a teacher shortage. Therefore, no teachers to layoff no matter who takes the helm. And like teachers, there is a decline of police officers in the pipeline willing and ready to wear the badge.
    Most voters identify as independent. So it is in the best interest of New Jersey to have all sides of the political spectrum at the table showing a modicum of respect.
    If our children are not educated, not only do we fail as a state , but we fail as a nation.

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