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The Monmouth County Democratic CD4 Vetting Committee concluded its report and recommends former State Department Official Stephanie Schmid as the party’s best candidate to go up against incumbent U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-4).
“One candidate emerged as the clear top-scorer: Stephanie Schmid, who earned 11% higher than the next closest candidate,” the report states. “While we unanimously recommend Ms. Schmid, we encourage you and your club to meet all the candidates and endorse or vote for whomever you choose. A different candidate may in fact be the preferred candidate for a different organization, but our goal and job was to vet for the Monmouth County Democrats 2020 CD4 Congressional race and to provide a recommendation.
“We hope that the Monmouth Democrats offer a full municipal convention in March, where 100% of the municipal chairs and committee people will be allowed to vote, so that the views and voices of CD4 are fairly represented.”
InsiderNJ obtained a copy of the report, which we have reprinted here:
Susan Boyce (co-chair), Rumson Municipal Chair
Liz deBeer (co-chair), Fair Haven Municipal Co-Chair
Lauren Albrecht, committee member Wall, State LGBTQ Chair
Tricia Maguire, Middletown Municipal Co-Chair member
Naomi Riley, Neptune committee member, Black Caucus member
George Schnurr, Freehold Borough Councilman
Dear NJ CD4 Municipal Chairs:
We are writing with a final report from the CD4 vetting committee. To recap, Chairman Brown appointed this committee, and we convened in June 2019 with the goals to a) develop a process to ensure that we thoroughly interview candidates for office so that we know their backgrounds, positions and electability, and b) if possible, make a recommendation to Chairman Brown after having evaluated the six candidates declared in NJ Congressional District 4. We also agreed to share our findings with the CD4 Muni Chairs at Chairman Brown’s request.
This report contains the results of our interviews as well as the details of the process we used. In our comments, we have outlined relevant observations of each candidate – things that were special strengths or weaknesses. We do not provide numerals on each candidate as we feel the narratives provide the salient information. Note: Since Tiffany Kaszuba has resigned from the CD4 race, we have excluded the comments about her.
To be clear, this vetting procedure was meant to provide a vehicle for the Monmouth County Democrats in specific. A different candidate may in fact be the preferred candidate for a different organization, but our goal and job was to vet for the Monmouth County Democrats 2020 CD4 Congressional race and to provide a recommendation.
One candidate emerged as the clear top-scorer: Stephanie Schmid, who earned 11% higher than the next closest candidate. While we unanimously recommend Ms. Schmid, we encourage you and your club to meet all the candidates and endorse or vote for whomever you choose.
We hope that the Monmouth Democrats offer a full municipal convention in March, where 100% of the municipal chairs and committee people will be allowed to vote, so that the views and voices of CD4 are fairly represented. Our main objective has been to be as fair and transparent as possible, which has included providing the questions asked of the candidates with the candidates, creating a uniform interviewing process with timed responses, sharing the timeline and process we have used, and sharing our findings. To be clear, we acknowledge that no process is perfect. We have tried our best and invite you, again, to spend time getting to know each candidate while considering our findings.
After our extensive questioning and evaluations, we unanimously recommend that the Monmouth County Democrats support the candidacy of Ms. Schmid. This is a recommendation from the vetting committee.
Ms. Schmid impressed us with her professional and educational background. Her legal and global experiences are extensive and give her a sense of authority and trustworthiness. She provided strong answers to all position questions that were balanced and showed us her deep knowledge on the topics, without getting lost in the details. Ms. Schmid takes the run for Congress seriously. She’s attended Emily’s List training and DCCC bootcamp, even though CD4 wasn’t really eligible for the bootcamp. She also has a compelling personal story to share about her days as a 16-year-old working for Chris Smith. We believe she’s prepared to go after Smith on issues CD4 cares about, such as taxes. Finally, we were impressed with the team she has assembled to run her campaign. She has a clear understanding of the financial resources necessary to mount a credible campaign and she clearly outlined a plan to obtain these resources. For these reasons, we recommend Ms. Schmid.
We do recognize that Ms. Schmid does not have deep roots in CD4 compared to other candidates in the race; however, we felt that with the strength of Ms. Schmid’s background and the campaign team she’s assembled, this can be overcome.
The scoring process, outlined below, clearly revealed Ms. Schmid the candidate our committee recommends.
Review of other candidates (in alphabetical order)
Below are summaries of each candidates based upon feedback from all committee members. We have shared the feedback individually with each candidate with the hopes that they will continue to show interest in running for other offices.
Mr. Applefield has a broad and interesting resume and life experience. His international experience and life in communications have served to give him a unique perspective and think deeply about issues. We liked the thoughtfulness that he brought to his answers on the position questions. He was an effective communicator to our small group and showed a genuineness in discussing his life and views. He has many connections outside the community and expressed his interest in tapping his rolodex for resources. While he has been in CD4 for a short time (8 months), he has long-term family ties to the area.
However, Mr. Applefield doesn’t have the experience with campaigns that we feel necessary to mount a successful challenge to Chris Smith. In addition, he is just getting started in his understanding of the issues that are most important to CD4. He did not fully present a cohesive policy platform focused on CD4. We also suggest that he spend more time with the CD4 minority community to better represent their interests. We felt that his fundraising goals were too modest given obstacles faced by democrats in this district. We hope he continues to make the connections with local Red Bank-based organizations, and we encourage him to run for other local elections because we can see his potential.
Ms. Conforti is a genuine, “live in the moment” person who speaks a message of living holistically that is woven in to her positions. She has an impressive educational background and work experience. Her work with Teach for America in Miami is particularly notable. Her work with the UN provided meaningful International experience and demonstrated an ability to negotiate solutions. She presents as calm, insightful and thoughtful.
However, Ms. Conforti had some difficulty staying on point while answering the position questions. She seemed naïve to us about the funding and organization a campaign of this magnitude will require. In addition, she has a limited understanding of how to motivate grassroots efforts in our view. We encourage Ms. Conforti to continue to partner with local democratic organizations and look for opportunities to either run again or help local candidates in the next election cycle.
Resigned from CD4 race on December 3, 2019.
Mr. Keady, having run before, is a known quantity for most of us. His life story of humanitarian advocacy is moving and powerful. He jumped in to the vetting process late and had little or no time to prepare for our meeting. Given that, he handled the position questions effortlessly. He was engaging, able to time his answers perfectly, clearly very skilled at the process. He has deep roots in the CD4 towns and has proven that he can engage a base and push the envelope with that base. We agree that he naturally has the “it” factor. Having done this before, he knows what is required to mount an effective challenge. He is very data savvy and laid out a data-driven strategy that made sense. He has the ability to reach out to grassroots small donors.
However, Mr. Keady’s history shows a tendency for “my way or the highway” responses when provoked, which does not bode well heading into a Congress where negotiation and finesse are going to be important skills. We recognize that he is one of the few candidates for consideration who have run multiple races, but it was pointed out that he has lost many of those races, and we felt that some of this was due to his inability to cooperate at key junctures. There is continued concern that Mr. Keady should deepen his connections within the minority community within CD4 and work to reconnect with local democrats. Overall, we all are quite impressed with Mr. Keady, and appreciate his work with social justice and political change.
Mr. Shehadeh brought a unique and genuine perspective to the meeting. He spoke of emigrating from Lebanon and his 30 years since in this country. His educational background (engineering and an MBA) were impressive, so were many of the insights he offered while speaking of his positions on issues. He has coached soccer in Freehold and has made one bid for school board (unsuccessful). He connected with the committee with his genuine interest in running and his honesty. As one committee member put it, “He speaks his truth.”
However, Mr. Shehadeh is currently unprepared to make a run for Congress. We feel he lacks the necessary experience to make a credible campaign. In addition, some of his answers to position questions were decidedly out of step with the committee. He was unwilling to directly state that he was fully pro-choice. And his answer on climate change was problematic as were his answers on questions of race. He did not offer a strategy for fundraising or organizing a campaign. We recognize and admire Mr. Shehadeh’s desire to serve in government and encourage him to get involved in Freehold local government where he lives as a good start.
We developed a Rubric that allowed us to rate candidate answers. We decided the important dimensions were 1) Background, 2) Position on Issues, 3) Electability, 4) Intangibles. For background, we took into account education, prior elected office, military, other gov’t service, work experience, etc. The position on issues section rated candidates’ answers to 17 issues questions that we felt were most important for CD 4. The third section, Electability scored: ability to fundraise, campaign strategy, data savvy, supporting orgs, grassroots support, etc. The fourth section were things that are important but harder to quantify: public speaking ability, listening/empathy, relationship with Dem infrastructure, that “it” factor, leadership.
The rubric we developed is below:
This rubric, along with the interview questions (at the end of this document), were the materials that the committee developed before the vetting process.
Candidates were brought in to meet with the committee, one at a time. The order of who went first, second, etc. was decided randomly. Each interview lasted approximately 90 minutes. In order to keep the interview moving along, we timed candidates answers to the Position question only allowing them 2 minutes per answer. The six members of the committee took turns asking the interview questions.
At the completion of each interview, the committee did not discuss their thoughts about the candidate but rather went home and completed their rubrics and any notes they wished to keep. Scores on the rubric were on a scale of 1-5 where 5 was “Strongly Agree” and 1 was “Strongly Disagree”. These rubrics were collected via email and one member of the committee sent out a summary of the average of all scores for a particular candidate. So for example, the summary rubric would reflect the average rating from the committee for “healthcare” and so on for each square in the table. These scores were then averaged. This gave us a somewhat quantitative measure upon which to begin our final deliberations. We did see differences between candidates on their rubric score that informed our decision but did not ultimately dictate it. The rubric was a tool developed by the committee in order to aid our decision process. We do not intend to share individual ratings or scores with either the candidates or the Monmouth County Democratic Committee.
A further note about our process: We felt it was important for us to each remain independent so that we could give each candidate a fair, independent shot. Members of the committee also went to great lengths not to discuss candidates or the process with friends or others in the community in order to remain true only to the process that we developed. We believed we accomplished this.
CD 4 Interview Questions
We are so glad you’ve made the time to meet with us. [introduce ourselves and the mission of the committee]. The structure of this interview will be as follows: we’ll start by asking about your experiences that are relevant to a Congress person. Second, we’ll ask about your positions on relevant issues for NJ and the Country, and then third we’ll focus on campaign specific issues.
In the second section, the discussion of your position on issues, we will ask that you keep your answers to within 2 minutes.
- Tell us about experiences you’ve had that you think are relevant to being a member of Congress (such as other elected offices, government or military service, educational background, work experience).
- How long have you lived in CD 4?
- What are your roots in the community?
- We know Congress is quite polarized now, how would you characterize your ability to compromise, perhaps give us an example where you’ve had to compromise.
- Do you have anything from your past that the media or your opponent would be able to dig up to discredit your candidacy?
Position on Issues
- If you look at the statistics on what we pay for healthcare in this country to other similar nations we can see that our care is very expensive relative to what we get. What would you do to address this?
- Possible follow-up: what do the terms Medicare for All or Universal Health Care mean to you and do you support such measures?
- Under what circumstances do you think women should have access to abortion?
- Possible follow up: What are your thoughts regarding additional limits on a woman’s right to choose.
- In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled that the constitution guarantees every American’s right to marry who they choose. Do you believe this is enough to afford LGBT American’s protection of their civil rights or do you think there’s more work to be done. If so, what is most important.
- By every measure, the divide between the rich and poor has dramatically increased over our lifetimes. What do you think is most important to address this issue. Specifically in your answer can you address your position on $15 minimum wage and Wall Street Banking reform?
- Do you support efforts to close the pay gap between women and men? If so, what do you think would be the best way to solve this problem?
- Relative to all the challenges facing our nation, where do you rate climate change and what tangible steps would you embrace to address the climate?
- African-Americans and Latinos are twice as likely to be arrested and four times as likely to experience the use of force during arrest. They also make up half of the prison population while they represent only a quarter of the country’s total population. How would you address this racial injustice?
- Since 2016 when Trump was elected our nations eyes have been on our southern border. Can you outline your thoughts on rational immigration reform?
- There have been 24,000 incidents involving a gun so far in 2019 (an incident is where someone was injured or killed). About 1,500 of these were children. What measures do you support to prevent needless loss of lives?
- Many candidates have been talking about free college tuition at community college or other state universities. What are your thoughts about this and how would you pay for it?
- Citizens United decision by the supreme court resulted in allowing the wealthiest people and corporations in this country to contribute unlimited amounts of money to campaigns. How have you seen this ruling affect our country and what do you believe should be done?
- We all know that taxes are a sensitive topic for voters. What are your budget priorities and what issues would you trade off against one another to meet a budget.
- What is your general stance with respect to US foreign policy, regarding troop deployment and military involvement in other countries.
- Those New Jerseyans who depend of public transportation are sorely aware of the state of our transportation system. What would you do to improve this country’s infrastructure.
- Finally, across NJ and many other states opioid addiction and deaths have reached crisis proportions. What do you see as the federal government’s role in helping states deal with this new reality?
- Are you passionate about an issue that we haven’t touched on so far?
- Of all the issues we discussed can you tell what are your top 3 priorities?
Running a Campaign
- How do you plan to raise funds for your campaign? And have you set any fundraising goals, such as how much you think you’ll need for primary? General?
- CD 4 is a gerrymandered district to ensure Republicans a win. What is your strategy for turning this district blue?
- How many unaffiliated voters will you have to win over?
- Have you hired a data firm to help you formulate your strategy? If yes, which firm?
- What individuals, groups or organizations will make up your donor base?
- How important to you are grassroots connections?
- How will you find the best experienced people to work on your campaign?
Is there anything you’d like to share that we haven’t touched on today?