Freiman of Hillsborough: Straddling a Leafy Legislative Battleground

Freiman of HIllsborough

HILLSBOROUGH – It’s the kind of place those builders of the last century envisioned as “the future.”

Parking lots. Trees. Box stores. Cars on a highway. Driveways. Lawns. Stanley Kubrick color schemes.

Maybe they didn’t see the implications of a lot of driving around on the psychology of the human population, or maybe they weren’t thinking about the future, after all, and how it might ultimately add up to a sense of suburban dislocation.

But here it is, ground zero, or very nearly close to ground zero of New Jersey’s 2019  general election rumble, where incumbent Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-16) and Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-16) seek reelection against the backdrop – depending on which side you talk to – of a party at war with itself or a president at war with his own country.

Or both.

In desperation scramble mode within earshot of Trump’s Bedminster golf course and hoping to save Somerset from Democratic Party rule and the infiltration of points east into the bloodstream, Republicans have prioritized the county race at the heart of LD16. They’ve done so arguably to the exclusion (somewhat) of the legislative contest, a sign of how far the GOP fell here amid double whammy implications of Governor Chris Christie limping out of office with a job approval rating of 16% and President Donald Trump playing to a nativist, non-New Jersey-centric base.

Still, Freiman – a retired Prudential executive who once went toe-to-toe with Christie at a town hall – isn’t taking things for granted. He won in 2017 on a Democratic Party wave and he wants back in amid low turnout election projections and the clamor of extremists on both sides.

In politics, “The future” is never completely settled.

Approachability. Thoughtfulness. Pragmaticism.

Those are the virtues Freiman says he he represents in Trenton.

He’s not an ideologue, he notes.

Nether is he someone who pretends at the righteousness of civility, like, for example, Christie, in Freiman’s view, the ice cream cone on the boardwalk guy who now wants to helm a civility project at Seton Hall.

“It seemed disingenuous the way it came across,” Freiman said of Christie’s designs. “I remember when one of the executives at Prudential was retiring. She was brutal. She would rip someone from top to bottom, herself included. At her retirement party she said, ‘I wish I was nicer.’  I said, ‘wait a minute. You control that.’ So in the case of Christie, it lacked a level of sincerity and authenticity coming from someone who was the poster child of being a bully.”

And yet, can’t Republicans – in this case former Freeholder Mark Caliguire of Montgomery and his running mate Christine Madrid (a former Montgomery mayor) – make a case for how one-party rule in Trenton (where Democrats own a 54-26 edge) comes across as two much concentrated coziness.

It doesn’t matter what party you have,’ Freiman told InsiderNJ. “It’s a question of whether you have thoughtful people in power. That is more important than any party.”

His priorities, he said, serve as a check on tribalism amok in the country right now.

As for evidence – on display in the ongoing bloody rift between Governor Phil Murphy and South Jersey power broker George Norcross III – that Democrats can’t handle a concentration of power, the Democratic assemblyman offered the following: “There’s no question there’s bad blood. But we’re entitled to have differences of opinion. People lose perspective. There is a difference in terms of tactics, but there exists a commonality of objective. So I think there should be acceptance of this being natural.”

Regarding two critical votes – extending the tax credits for the Economic Development Authority (EDA) and a path to a $15 minimum wage – Freiman offered his rationale for voting aye in both cases.

“I was disappointed by the EDA extension and I talked to my colleagues about it at the time; why we were forced into a Sophie’s Choice,” he said. “We never should have been in that situation. But I really had no concerns when [I voted to] extend the EDA [tax incentives] for seven months. Those past abuses  wouldn’t continue because the program was under such tremendous scrutiny, and under such a bright light. I voted in favor because we should be attracting businesses from without the state, not fighting within.”

As for his yes vote on a minimum wage increase, Freiman said, “It irks the hell out of me that we abuse the definition of small business. I asked OLS [the Office of Legislative Services] to count up the number of times we employed a different definition of  small business in legislation, and it was something like 50 different ways, which is offensive.

“We should work toward getting people to a living wage,” he added, in defense of the bill that passed, even as he noted a pending bill of his that would act as a circuit breaker “if we hit a recession.”

The bill that passed was imperfect, he conceded, and in need of fixes.

It’s almost like the district itself, half built perhaps, the result of roads arranged to accommodate overnight, or almost overnight, development; not done yet, with a future that hangs in the balance, not unlike the election, Freiman argues, which, despite all the most comforting elements of the suburban surroundings, shouldn’t be seen as anything other than a legislative battleground.

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