Shade, Shame, Sharing Needles. The week in NJ Politics


We got such a heaping helping of NJ politics this week that you probably need something bite-sized by now. Luckily for you, nuggets are my specialty.


Gubernatorial debate season just wrapped, not that anyone noticed. Phil Murphy & Kim Guadagno dueled twice (Zzzzzz) and their running mates Sheila Oliver + Carlos Rendo squared off once this passed Monday.

I’m as plugged into NJ politics as you get. Yet each one caught me by surprise. So like many NJ voters, I caught up after the fact. Here’s what stood out: 1) Why are non-NJ journalists moderating these gubernatorial debates?  2) what’s up with Murphy’s woolen trainers? And where can I get some? & 3) an hour-long debate is not long enough and too long at the same time.

How is that possible?

To me, the best part of debate season was Rendo’s brain-on-drugs face-plant. (Note to Carlos: don’t talk about cannabis again until you’ve sorted out your tired metaphors.)

I also enjoyed Assemblywoman Oliver shutting down Mayor Rendo for trying to be cute (again), this time about affordable housing.

“Are you mandating affordable housing?” the moderator Michael Aron (pictured) pressed.

“No,” Oliver replied flatly. It reminded me of That Tone my grandmother gave when she was fed up (to here) with my nincompoopery.  I was a sugar-sensitive child and I know That Tone very, very well.


So what did Assemblywoman Oliver make of her debate moment?

“What we heard on Monday was just more proof that a Guadagno-Rendo administration would just be another Christie-Guadagno administration with a slight rearrangement of the furniture, when New Jersey wants a wholesale redesign of our entire house,” Oliver told InsiderNJ.

Robert Menendez

If watching Senator Bob Menendez blowtorch palates of legal defense cash isn’t your thing, here’s a summary of this weeks highlights:

1) Menendez lawyers’ attempts to dismiss the charges? DENIED! 2) later Menendez’ co-defendant/”hermano” Dr Salomon Melgen’s wife Flor Meglen brought laughter and shade to the stand. Who knew perma-tanned Florida congressman Charlie Crist was a shameless party-crasher? Unlike Menendez however at least Crist paid for his own hooch!  3) We’re also reminded that Menendez’ co-defendant Dr Melgen over-billed Medicaid to the tune of $8.9m  (which might be same figure to cycle through Menendez’ legal defense fund by the time this is said done.) 4) And finally we learned that the Honorable William Walls’ patience has its limits.

“You continue to try and bring in every detail of this meeting,” the Judge told Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell. “I’m not going to permit it because it’s a waste of time as far as I’m concerned.”

Luckily for the judge, the jury, and everyone covering this drama, Menendez’ bribery case seems to be winding down , the defense possibly resting within a week.

And that’s when the drama gets really thick!

It’s still courageous for Menendez’ fellow democrats to call him out. Very soon it’s gonna be weird and awkward if they don’t. #WhyDoIFeelSoAlone!?


The most competitive senate races this year are LD2 (Atlantic County, Colin Bell v Chris Brown) and Monmouth’s LD11 where Jen Beck is fighting off a stubborn opponent in Vin Gopal. They all mention NJ’s opiate/heroin problem on the trail. But how dialed-in are they  when it comes to NJ’s insatiable appetite for opiates like heroin and Percocet?

I took to Twitter to find out (it’s what everybody’s doing!) and asked the quartet of Bell, Brown, Beck, & Gopal where an IV drug user in their district can safely dispose contaminated needles. Beck & Gopal never replied. Had they bothered to field my Twitter query, they would have learned the shameful, sobering truth: there is no syringe exchange facility in NJ’s 11th legislative district.

So now they get to learn it by reading this column.

At least IV drug users in Atlantic County have an option: the only syringe exchange south of I-195 is located in Atlantic City.  It’s called OASIS and their # 609-572-1927 should Senator Bell or Assemblyman Brown feel inclined to ring them up lend a hand. (PRO TIP: CALL THEM!) Servicing all of South Jersey on a shoe-string budget in the midst of a raging heroin crisis surely presents a unique set of challenges for Oasis. Bell & Brown should know those challenges intimately.

For his part, newly installed Senator Colin Bell did reply. He didn’t know about OASIS but did acknowledge the importance of getting dirty needles off the streets. Fair play to Bell for saying “I don’t know, please educate me.”

He knows now and that’s a good thing

Writing about NJ’s opiate crisis is a drag. Bemoaning and belaboring our shortcomings gets old and weary for me too. And I don’t . But NJ’s virtually nonexistent needle exchange model is shameful. And guess what!?  Besides Narcam, syringe access is a no-brainer.

So the fact that there’s only one syringe exhange in all of South Jersey and none in Monmouth County?

Appalling doesn’t begin to describe it!

Jay Lassiter is the presenter of NJ101.5’s popular podcast HEROIN UNCUT, a series promoting the voices of drug users, former drugs users, and their families. Enough talk. Vigils aren’t enough.


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