NEWARK – Phil Murphy likes to say – and he said it again today – that during a pandemic he cares nothing about politics. As proof, he offered up how he’s worked well regarding beach behavior with local Republican officials along the Jersey Shore.
That could be, but as we heard elsewhere around the state today, you really can’t separate partisan politics from the pandemic.
Ras Baraka, the mayor of Newark, and Sen. Bob Menendez joined other Democratic officials today on what has become a common demand of late – state and local governments need federal help. And so far, it’s not coming.
Menendez, particularly, has held numerous press events – some via Zoom – to make the case for including funds for states and towns in the next COVID-19 relief bill. While today actually may have been more suitable for Zoom, the senator’s party opted instead for an outdoor event in 90-plus degree weather on the steps of City Hall.
The need is apparent.
Municipal and state revenue across the state, if not the country, is down for many reasons – big and small. As Baraka noted, with people doing less driving and travelling, revenue from city parking fees and the hotel tax is down sharply. A greater problem may be an inability of property owners to make full property tax payments. The next deadline is Aug. 1.
On the appropriations side, Baraka said the city must prepare for delivering expanded social services because increased unemployment payments and rent forbearance programs will end soon without federal help.
The mayor succinctly sized up his feelings: “Washington has bailed out corporations time after time,” he said. So, why not cities and states?
Menendez first talked about $500 billion in aid for state and local governments months ago. He even has a handful of GOP sponsors including Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who previously joined Menendez for a conference call to hype the bill. But so far, it seems to have fallen into the black hole of partisan politics.
Menendez today faulted not only Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, but other states for not taking the virus as seriously as New Jersey has.
“Many ignored the threat,” he said.
The senator did have a point, considering how as of now, New Jersey is doing a very good job coping with the virus.
As for the president, Menendez acknowledged that Donald Trump didn’t cause the virus, but added, “He has done virtually nothing to stop it.” Menendez called this a global embarrassment.
The Nov. 3 election obviously gets closer every day, which no one can ignore.
Baraka was asked about excitement in his city and among his fellow politicians for Joe Biden, an establishment figure to be sure.
He said Democrats have no choice but to get excited and work hard for Biden.
“I’ll be doing my best, more than my best,” Baraka said.
Tonight’s event also took place as the Trump administration has dispatched federal agents or troops to quell protests in Portland and other cities.
Baraka said the notion is threatening, but he’s hopeful Newark will not be a target for Trump.
“By the grace of God, we have not seen a big increase in violence,” he said, adding that Black Lives Matter protests in the city also have been peaceful.