Congressman Josh Gottheimer Has a Week of Ups and Downs

SALT: Insider NJ's Fred Snowflack talks about Congressman Josh Gottheimer's week of ups and downs, which included an event in Woodcliff Lake, a letter of resignation hoax, and the announced candidacy of Arati Kreibich, who plans to challenge Gottheimer in the next primary election.

WOODCLIFF LAKE – The last few days have been eventful ones for Josh Gottheimer.

Tuesday afternoon found him doing what he seems to like best – highlighting bipartisan legislation amid a cluster of supporters. The Democratic congressman from the 5th District hosted a press conference on a sweltering athletic field to trumpet a proposed federal law that would require all 98,000 public schools in the nation that get federal funds to be equipped with silent alarms to quietly summon help in an emergency.

The law is named after Alyssa Alhadeff, a one time Woodcliff Lake resident, who was killed in the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla. after her family relocated. The school had no silent alarms. Her parents were on hand for the event.

A similar state law was signed earlier this year by Phil Murphy. The federal bill has bipartisan support in the House, but its fate in the Senate is unclear. The bill also would require schools to have School Resource Officers, who generally are active or retired police officers.

One supporter noted that hitting “an alarm can save minutes, which can save lives.”

The congressman was joined by local police officers plus state and local education officials. If this was the only news about Gottheimer this week, he likely would be pleased. That isn’t the case.

On Monday, news surfaced of a phony letter on congressional stationery that claimed Gottheimer was resigning his seat because of an improper relationship with an aide. The letter was “signed” by Gottheimer, but did not match his usual signature. Talk about a dead giveaway.

Asked about the letter after Tuesday’s event, Gottheimer said the FBI is actively investigating and that he couldn’t say anything more. He did call it a “despicable hoax.”

Also on Monday, Arati Kreibich, a Glen Rock council member, said she plans to challenge Gottheimer in next year’s Democratic primary, presumably from the left.

While primary runs against incumbents are difficult enterprises, trouble has been brewing all year on the congressman’s left flank.

It was most noticeable in April when a number of liberal groups held a “town hall” meeting in Ridgewood with a large photo of the congressman. They said he had refused to appear. Kreibich was one of those in the crowd that night.

Kreibich said via phone on Monday that she has been a Gottheimer supporter and had one of his campaign signs on her front lawn. But she said she has been “disappointed” and “disillusioned” by the congressman’s actions.

She is not impressed with Gottheimer’s devotion to the Problem Solvers caucus, a bipartisan group, and says he seems to care too much about the corporate elite, from where he gets campaign cash. Kreibich also said Gottheimer should be doing more to combat climate change and to expand health care; she considers health care a right.

Gottheimer, who acknowledges the problem on the left, has said he must remember that the district is a very moderate one at best. He is the first Democrat to represent the 5th district in decades.

Kreibich said she “completely rejects” Gottheimer’s premise.

Asked about the pending primary challenge, Gottheimer said he was pleased that the county Democratic chairs in all four counties in the district – Bergen, Passaic, Sussex and Warren – quickly expressed support for him

“That speaks volumes,” he said.

Then again, it’s no surprise county chairs are backing an incumbent.

The type of challenge that unfolds remains to be seen, but if nothing else, a serious primary challenge can be an annoyance for an incumbent. The congressman avoided a question about whether a challenge could hurt Democrats in 2020.

After the Woodcliff Lake event, Gottheimer’s schedule had him attending the annual Warren County fair. He may have found milking a cow a nice diversion from some of this week’s events.

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