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MAHWAH – It was pretty clear what the 100 or so people at the local Elks Lodge were thinking as soon as Republican Frank Pallotta came to the microphone.
He was introduced as “the guy who can beat Josh Gottheimer.”
This was the kickoff for Pallotta’s congressional campaign in the Fifth District, a geographically-crazy creation that ranges across northern New Jersey from the Hudson to the Delaware. Pallotta says he likes the diversity, suggesting that one can experience much of what the state has to offer – high-risers, compacted cities, suburbia, horses and farms – all in one congressional district.
But Thursday night really wasn’t the time for waxing poetic about the distinction between Ridgewood and Green Township.
Pallotta’s overall campaign point is that CD-5’s makeup skews Republican and that’s the type of congress member voters deserve.
That may indeed be the history, but you wonder if it’s true in 2020. Recent state figures show that registered Democrats in the district outnumber Republicans by about 6,000. After narrowly beating Republican Scott Garrett in 2016, Gottheimer won reelection 15 months ago by about 41,000 votes. Still, President Trump slightly carried the district in 2016.
Gottheimer admittedly seeks to walk a centrist path, which has provoked criticism from the left and even a primary opponent from that wing of the party, Arati Krebich.
But to Republicans, any attempt by Gottheimer to claim the mantle of independent thinker dissolved when he backed impeachment, or as was mentioned more than once during the evening, sided with Nancy Pelosi.
Pallotta, a Queens native who moved to Mahwah about 30 years ago, also ridiculed Gottheimer’s involvement with the Problem Solvers’ Caucus, a bipartisan group of House members who try to broach the wide, partisan divide. Pallotta said he considers the Democrat part of the problem and that he’s solving nothing.
Getting back to impeachment, Dawn Fantasia, a Sussex County freeholder, told the crowd that the congressman put politics ahead of the needs of the Fifth District. Fantasia said all the Sussex freeholders back Pallotta. That means something, but not all that much given the fact Sussex Republicans have an open primary; there’s no county line.
All this is relevant because almost 10 people have expressed interest in seeking the GOP nod for Congress. Other than Pallotta, the three most serious contenders appear to be Mike Ghassali, the mayor of Montvale, John McCann, who ran unsuccessfully two years ago, and Assemblyman Robert Auth, who just announced his plans. Clearly, the key is getting support from the Bergen County Republican organization.
Pallotta didn’t talk much about the primary, suggesting things will work out over time.
Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, who shares the 39th district with Auth, says an abundance of candidates is good for the party, adding that maybe the pendulum is swinging the Republicans’ way after the party had a bad year in 2018. Democrats won all but one of the state’s 12 congressional seats that year, although one of the Democratic winners, Jeff Van Drew, just became a Republican.
More than once, Pallotta spoke about reducing property taxes. He agrees with eliminating the $10,000 deduction cap on state and local taxes, which the Democratic House passed before Christmas. It has no chance in the Senate.
Other than that, it’s hard to see what a federal body like Congress can do to actually reduce property taxes in New Jersey.
When I mentioned that to Pallotta, he smiled and said, it can be done if “you think outside the box.”
The Gottheimer Camp responded to the event with a quote.
“Josh Gottheimer works day in and day out with Democrats and Republicans to solve problems for us, from lowering health care costs, to cutting taxes, and fixing our crumbling roads and bridges,” said Andrew Edelson, spokesperson for Josh Gottheimer for Congress. “All Frank Pallotta can do is mock bipartisan progress.”