WEEHAWKEN – A short distance from where Alexander Hamilton famously met his fate more than 200 years ago, Jack Ciattarelli had death on his mind as well – New Jersey’s.
“We are dying a slow and painful death,” Ciattarelli said today as he stood in a park atop the cliffs of the Palisades, a short walk from the Hamilton-Aaron Burr duel site.
Framed by the imposing New York City skyline, Ciattarelli’s point was simple – New Jersey businesses are being effectively strangled by Phil Murphy’s policies and intense competition from other states, one of which, of course, is New York.
“We are here to compete,” he said, stressing the geographic symbolism of the event.
Ciattarelli pledged to fight proposals for “congestion pricing” – the assessment of added fees for cars travelling to midtown Manhattan – and to push the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to better serve the state’s interests.
And then, there’s Murphy’s policies.
It is not unusual for a Republican to call a Democrat anti-business, but Ciattarelli had some recent ammunition – Oreo cookies.
He said the closing of Nabisco’s plant in Bergen County aptly demonstrated Murphy’s indifference to commerce.
What would Ciattarelli do different?
He talked about cutting the state’s corporate tax, which is now a maximum of 9 percent, in half, instituting a capital gains tax for businesses (rather than taxing gains at general rates) and exempting the first $50,000 in business earnings from taxation. He said he was confident he would be able to offset a revenue drop with budget cuts.
That event complete, Team Jack left Weehawken for a town meeting in Hasbrouck Heights.
In contrast to a sparsely attended town hall last week in Kenilworth, this one at the local VFW hall overflowed with at least 300 people.
Ciattarelli seemed enthused by the turnout, joking more than once about Murphy’s “tracker,” – a campaign staffer for the governor who attends and records Ciattarelli’s events.
He said that he expected the tracker, who he identified as “Chris,” to vote for him. Chris, who was clearly on enemy territory, just smiled.
Moving to more traditional campaign material, Ciattarelli earned loud cheers when he spoke out against any type of vaccine mandates. The applause continued – and even got a bit louder – when he said parents, not the state, should decide on kids wearing masks in school.
At every Ciattarelli town hall, there seem to be questions about voting itself. Ciattarelli pointed out that voting will be in-person this year and thrilled the crowd again when he said he backed voter-ID laws.
But on some other issues, Ciattarelli moved a bit from “red meat” conservatism.
He said he accepts “global warming” and the need to combat it. But he is wary of what he said was Murphy’s extreme agenda in that regard, specifically criticizing the governor’s embrace of windmills.
On that score, he offered some witticism, saying it’s one thing to be “cutting edge,” but that you don’t want to end up bleeding.
He also fielded a question about guns.
One man said he worried about his girlfriend, because she goes to school in Newark.
Why can’t she be legally allowed to carry a gun?
The political answer in a forum like tonight’s would have been, “Yes, she should be allowed to pack heat.”
But Ciattarelli didn’t say that.
He said his administration would support police and work to make all cities safe.
And he said that a society in which people feel they have to be armed to feel safe is not a very safe society.