With a little more than a week to go before Nov. 8, the last day we can vote, it’s the City of Rahway that could well determine Rep. Tom Malinowski’s fate in CD7 and whether or not the Democrats hold the House of Representatives.
So, it should not come as a surprise that it was on a recent chilly morning in Rahway that a broad coalition of New Jersey labor, immigrant rights and environmental groups, representing tens of thousands of members, huddled around coffee and donuts to discuss their ongoing operations on behalf of Malinowski as well as for other “incumbent progressives” Andy Kim in CD3 and Mikie Sherrill in CD11.
“The coalition aims to advance a working-families-first agenda in New Jersey through aggressive traditional and digital grassroots actions,” according to a press release handed out at the get together on the banks of the Rahway River. “The independent coalition is formed by New Jersey Working Families Party, SEIU 32BJ, NJ Citizen Action, Make the Road Action, CWA, Latina Civic, Blue Wave, and Clean Water Action.”
The group is operating independently of any campaign and is using direct voter to voter contact that relies on door to door canvassing as well as phone banking outreach to connect with voters of color and working class voters who are new to Malinowski’s district. While the decennial realignment of the 7th DC favored his Republican opponent, former State Senator Tom Kean Jr., Malinowski inherited this reliable Democratic stronghold that was represented for many years by Rep. Donald Payne. He will need it. In the last election, Malinowski saw his 2018 15,000 vote margin of victory shrink to just 5,000 votes.
BY THE NUMBERS
According to the U.S. Census, this blue collar city of 30,000 is 45 percent white, with Blacks and Latinos accounting for the majority of residents in a community where in over a third of the households a language other than English is spoken at home.
The United Way’s ALICE (Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed) analysis found that 40 percent, or 11,200 of Rahway’s households, struggle month to month to cover shelter, food, transportation or child care costs. That’s above New Jersey’s 37 percent ALICE rate statewide. While the national political pundits fixate on the returns from white suburbs as the crucial bellwether, it will be the returns from overlooked places like Rahway, that will be determinative as to the course of a nation that’s increasingly composed of a majority of minorities .
In the last election for Governor just 34 percent of Rahway voters turned out, voting overwhelmingly for Gov. Phil Murphy. In that contest fewer than 7,000 Rahway voters cast a ballot, down from 14,000 who turned out for the Biden vs. Trump election a year earlier. In 2018, when Rahway was still in the 10th CD just under 9,000 voters made a pick for Congress, just 53 percent of Rahway’s registered voters.
In the Trump vs. Clinton 2016 contest, 68 percent of Rahway’s 17,600 voters cast a ballot. While in 2020, with Biden challenging President Trump, the same percentage of Rahway voters turned out but the actual number of registered voters had grown to 21,000 voters. That burst in registration translated into over 2,000 additional votes being cast in 2016 then when Clinton carried New Jersey but lost the election to Trump.
April Fitch is a member of SEIU 32BJ (pictured, above) who works at Newark Liberty International and one of the organizers of the drive that’s highlighting Malinowski’s support of legislation that makes healthcare more affordable, promotes federal paid family as well as sick time while funding infrastructure for this city that’s already so vulnerable to climate crisis related flooding.
“In particular, we are fighting hard for Congressman Malinowski in CD-7 who is most in danger of losing his seat,” Fitch said. “In stark contrast to his opponent, Congressman Malinowski has voted for measures that protect us all by reducing inflation, defending women’s reproductive rights, and fighting for justice at every level. We will do our best to touch every voter, and together we will continue fighting for a better future for all.”
“Congressman Malinowski has been a champion of tackling climate change from day one, while his opponent has a lengthy history in the New Jersey Legislature of opposing climate measures,” said Eric Benson, Clean Water Action. “The people of the 7th congressional district support clean water, clean air, and a livable climate future for their children and oppose taking our state and our country backwards. As we’ve seen from the effects of Sandy, Ida, and countless unnamed storms, the cost of climate change to property and lives is high. We must elect Tom Malinowski back to Congress to continue fighting for our public health and a livable climate future.”
Jose Salcedo, a recent citizen and first time voter with Make the Road Action New Jersey, said the stakes are high this election for his family and neighbors who “are horrified by MAGA Republicans who attack our very democracy and our rights.”
Liz Glynn with NJ Citizen Action (pictured, above) said that in her group’s ongoing door-to-door canvassing in Rahway, healthcare access and affordability were a big part of the porch conversations with prospective voters.
“Congressman Malinowski voted yes in Congress for the Inflation-Reduction Act, which is going to lower the costs of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, capping annual increases, and reducing the price of insulin to only $35 per month for Seniors,” Glynn said. “Right now there’s massive price gouging by corporations including hospitals. We need to do everything we can to lower costs but it’s not the government’s problem. It’s the problem of corporations’ price gouging while we are at a time of record profits—it’s not make force—it’s deliberate raising of prices that are pinching families and Malinowski hasn’t taken any money from the corporate packs.”
Earlier this year, hundreds of thousands of New Jersey public workers were told to brace for between a 20 to 24 percent spike in their healthcare premium costs. Double digit price shocks are also facing hundreds of thousands of federal employees in all fifty states, according to American Federation of Government Employees, the nation’s largest federal worker union.
Here in New Jersey, the Communication Workers of America District 1 includes tens of thousands of state, county and municipal workers who worked out in their communities during the pandemic while so many of their neighbors were able to work remotely. Throughout the country, essential workers like them, who didn’t see hazard pay, despite the risk to them and their families, are now faced with a pay cut thanks to the medical industrial complex’s predatory pricing.
Chris Estevez, is CWA District 1’s New Jersey Political Director (pictured, top). Estevez said that recent news reports that suggested a surge in Latino support for the Republican Party failed to take into account how the infringement on a women’s reproductive rights undermined their economic ability to provide for their family.
“You are talking about Latino families that many times are led by women who have to work while taking care of their families and they already have children so they don’t want politicians making the decision on how many children they should have,” Estevez explained. “They are progressive— in as much as they want to make decisions about their personal economy. It’s a labor right. You have to be able to work—you have to be able to continue to afford your family so you must retain that choice.”
ROUSING THE ‘SLEEPING GIANT’
Back in September, when the Rev. Dr. William Barber was in Princeton, he described for InsiderNJ how a similar strategy being used by the Working Families coalition here in New Jersey needed to have a national application if Democrats were to prevail. In an analysis of the nation’s 2020 election returns the Kairos Center, which works with Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign, said that New Jersey alone had 400,000 low wage and low wealth workers who were registered to vote that year but did not cast a ballot.
“If you look at the number of poor people—52 million without a living wage—140 million [overall in the country]—you have to talk to them as human beings,” Barber said. “Second of all, say to them I am not here to ask you to vote, I am here for you to join a movement that says there’s something wrong with our policies that this many people can be left disinherited. Thirdly, I am asking you to believe that democracy is not just an idea, but democracy and justice are on the ballot.
This midterm election there’s a lot more at stake than who gets to hold the gavel in Congress. But you wouldn’t know it from much of the tone of the corporate news coverage.
The mid-terms have been framed entirely by past historical trends disconnected from the existential crisis this election represents. We are in the throes of a dystopian denialism that goes well beyond Donald Trump and his narcissism. We are in the midst of
the convergence of the climate crisis, the longterm implications of our deeply flawed public health response to COVID, and at the same time the rescinding of female reproductive rights as well as the meltdown of the Republican Party into an authoritarian personality cult.
According to the website FiveThirtyEight.com, 60 percent of Americans will have the option to vote for a candidate who still denies the validity of the last presidential election in 2020. In the House of Representatives alone, the number crunching site estimates that there are 117 hardcore 2020 election deniers and eight doubters who all have a 95 percent chance of winning a seat in Congress.
And that doesn’t include the hundreds of down ballot candidates vying for state offices and even for positions that oversee the election process and machinery itself.
COVERING THEIR TRACKS
As a practical matter, if the Republicans win, it will mean that the Insurrectionists prevailed before the architects of Trump’s Putsch where held accountable for their high crimes and misdemeanors. In New Jersey, the only House member who voted against the certification of President Biden, as well as the creation of the bi-partisan Jan. 6 House Committee, was Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd).
Van Drew, who was elected to Congress as a Democrat, left that party to swear his allegiance to President Trump. He is being challenged by Tim Alexander, a lawyer now in private practice who was a former detective captain of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office and a major trials prosecutor with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.
The CWA’s Estevez confirmed that his union has engaged in that race as well for the Democrat, despite the fact that New Jersey’s statewide AFL-CIO endorsed Van Drew as it did New Jersey’s other remaining Republican incumbent Rep. Chris Smith from CD4.
“In Van Drew we have an incumbent who really is a trader to the his own constituents—he got elected as a Democrat and then completely turned on them when it was expedient for himself and now we have a candidate in Tim Alexander who is a fighter for the people,” Estevez said. “He was a public employee he himself so he knows what the struggle is and what are the issues that we face. He is dynamic and he has the chance to make change and get voters out.”
The CD 2 is one of less than two dozen districts nationally that voted twice for President Obama and then in 2016 flipped for Trump as 800,000 African-American voters stayed home in places like Atlantic City and Bridgeton which aremore aligned with the demographics of Rahway than the suburban communities America’s political pundits fixate on.
The coverage of the mid-terms have been framed entirely by past historical trends disconnected from the existential crisis this election represents. We are in the throes of a dystopian denialism that goes well beyond Donald Trump and his narcissism. We are in the midst of the convergence of the climate crisis, the longterm implications of our deeply flawed public health response to COVID, at the same times as the meltdown of the Republican Party into an authoritarian personality cult and the wholesale rescinding of female reproductive rights.
This spring the CDC published a study that said twenty percent of the tens of millions of COVID survivors under 65 years of age were suffering with at least one lingering symptom of varying severity. Among those over 65, it was one in four.
“In an indication of how seriously the federal health agency views the problem of long Covid, the authors of the study — members of the C.D.C.’s Covid-19 Emergency Response Team — recommended ‘routine assessment for post-Covid conditions among persons who survive Covid-19,’” reported the New York Times.
The newspaper continued. “Long Covid is the term used to describe an array of symptoms that can last for months or longer after the initial coronavirus infection. The researchers identified post-Covid health problems in many different organ systems, including the heart, lungs and kidneys. Other issues involved blood circulation, the musculoskeletal system and the endocrine system; gastrointestinal conditions, neurological problems and psychiatric symptoms were also identified in the study.”
We reassure ourselves with the passing of the celebrations that have always marked the turn of the seasons that life is going on as it always has. In the news media we seem to be doing so much of our midterm political coverage in a dissociative rote untethered from our actual circumstance. Just how relevant is that hackneyed “right way vs. wrong way” poll question anyway after a mass death event that is still taking its toll?
We just keep asking the same polling questions because, well, we always have.