A retired Prudential executive from Hillsborough, Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-16) is primarily working on the details of prioritizing public health and putting the state in a functioning economic condition. InsiderNJ called Freiman this week to check on his progress in the midst of a compounded crisis, as the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and subsequent justice rallies worldwide intensified questions around New jersey’s recovery from COVID-19.
Amid a dramatic reconcentration of populations in the streets, the issue of wearing a mask divides those who back President Donald J. Trump, who scorns a mask, and those who heed his government’s immunologist, Dr. Antony Fauci, who wears a mask. “I think the general public has every right to question the mask issue,” said Freiman. “The CDC [Centers for Disease Control] said no masks then did a 180 degree turn and said ‘masks.'”
Where does he stand on it?
He wears one in public.
“The analogy I use is physicians operating use masks to protect the sterile field,” the assemblyman said. “I’m not sure we’re messaging that out enough. You’re protecting others. People are making this argument about ‘my choice and my freedom’ as though it’s analogous to not wearing a hemet while riding a motorcycle. But it’s actually more analagous to driving after drinking, because it’s putting others at risk. The data around masks needs to be examined completely. But the issue is if it really prevents you from spreading the virus, then wearing a mask prevents you from spreading the virus, and if it doesn’t quite work, you wore a mask for a little while. In the interest of COVID-19 containment and saving lives, that seems like a reasonable trade-off.”
Freiman spoke a day after Trump rubber bullet and tear gas-cleared peaceful protesters amassed outside the gates of the White House. “There’s very little I can say about how the president has been operating that I am supportive of,” he said, and left it at that.
“The death of George Floyd is a tragedy,” Freiman added. “Needless to say, I am incredibly angry and sad about this, and about the fact that people of color have to live in fear. There should be zero tolerance for racism in law enforcement. This has to be resolved, and to that end, a demonstration of anger through protest is understandable, especially as the vast majority are doing it properly and peacefully.”
His main focus is small business proection and the economy. He backs Assembly Bill 4175, otherwise known as the “New Jersey COVID -19 Emergency Bond Act,” supported by Governor Phil Murphy. He has also, wherever and whenever possible, articulated the massiveness of what the state will face in terms of economic impact, on the scale of 2008 – or worse. He said he is working on legislation to help small businesses to minimize their risk from a liability perspective, to help give them an edge as the economy gradually reopens. He’s intent, too, on more money to supplement the $100 million given by the feds to the NJ Economic Development Authority (EDA) for loans and grants to businesses impacted by coronavirus.
“There’s not enough money in Fort Knox [to provide the relief small businesses will need],” Freiman said.
Having won his seat in 2017 and reelected in 2019, Freiman said he first became aware of the impact of COVID on March 12th, when the National Basketball Association (NBA) cancelled the season. Like so many, his family has suffered. His wife lost her aunt to the virus, and having been personally impacted, the assemblyman notes that “longterm care facilities are crying out for more attention.”
He praised the Murphy Administration in general for responding competently to the crisis, and acknowledged that not having gotten every decision right, “we will learn a host of things about what to do right in the future,” including reopening.
“No one has the crystal ball to see what is the speed we should employ, or to know what the virus is going to do,” he said.
Himself a licensed pilot, he likens our situation to aviation, when the captain of a plane makes a Go/No-Go decision. “The pilot is at the controls and people are itching to get going, and the analogy is the pressure on the pilot to go, and to make the wrong decision about going. That is why the pilot always decides whether to take off or not. The pilot doesn’t care about the profibiliaty of that flight. Their sole conccern is the safety of the people on that plane, period. If the passengers are making decision, you won’t get the safest result.
“What we have at this moment,” Freiman added, “is a real test of leadership; of the public versus self interest; of doing what’s popular and what is not prudent by listening to the pent-up demand versus what must be done for public safety. You do have to listen to pick up good ideas along the way. But you have to make that sound, sensible and safety-first decision amid the incredibly loud chorus of frustration. If anything the governor not sharing enough the specificity around his decision-making, but I respect the way he has prioritized fighting the pandemic.”