The Train to 2020: Malinowski v. Kean Against Bramnick Backdrop

Bramnick today in Westfield.

WESTFIELD – Improving NJ Transit is a very bipartisan thing, so it was no surprise to see a bevy of politicians from both sides of the aisle descend on the town train station Monday to trumpet expanding train service on the Raritan Valley line. Or more specifically, re-starting direct service to Manhattan on non-peak hour trains on Nov. 4. Instituting such service during peak time, or rather rush-hour, will come eventually – but probably not too soon.

No matter. This first step was certainly deemed worthy of celebration. The governor was there, as was Tom Malinowski, the local congressman, the district’s three Republican state lawmakers and more than a dozen local pols.

The happy talk notwithstanding, the presence of Malinowski stirred some Republicans. Why is he here? Isn’t this a local issue, not a federal one? That observation had some relevancy – other than pure political posturing – because state Sen. Thomas H. Kean Jr., who wants to run against Malinowski next year, was sitting in the front row of the spectator section.

Gov. Phil Murphy sought to answer the question by calling the Democratic congressman an “instrumental voice” in terms of fighting for the project.

Malinowski, for his part, did what many New Jersey Democrats like to do – take a swipe or two at former Gov. Chris Christie.

Drifting into general transportation matters, Malinowski lamented what he said was the ex-governor’s “dastardly irresponsible” decision to cancel the so-called ARC tunnel early in his gubernatorial term. Murphy chimed in, as he has done in the past, to criticize Christie’s stewardship, or lack thereof, of NJ Transit during his eight years in office.

Listening – along with Kean in the first row – was Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick. Don’t put all the blame on Christie for the woes of NJ Transit, he said. He noted that Legislative Democrats had the power to increase appropriations for the agency any time they wanted to do so.

Murphy in the vicinity of Malinowski.
Murphy in the vicinity of Malinowski.

Bramnick, of course, has concerns these days that go beyond how the trains are running.

He admits that he and fellow GOP lawmaker Nancy Munoz are in a tough race in District 21 against Democrats Lisa Mandelblatt and Stacey Gunderman, who were not at the event. Conservatives in the district aren’t helping.

Martin Marks and Harris Pappas, self-described conservatives running as independents, criticized Bramnick over last weekend, because his law firm advertises legal representation for immigrants facing deportation or having problems with the so-called DACA program, which essentially allows individuals brought to this country illegally as children to remain in the country and to attend school. President Trump tried to stop the initiative, but it remains in effect pending an eventual ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. The conservatives conclude that Bramnick is promoting illegal immigration.

This is the second time in the last few days Bramnick’s law firm has gotten entangled in partisan politics. Previously, it was for suggesting it would defend those accused of sexual assault by discrediting the accusers. That brought much condemnation from the left.

Bramnick tried to shrug it all off, saying that if he’s being scorned by the right and left flanks of the political equation he must be doing something right.

As an aside, a neutral observer can only wonder why people don’t understand – or perhaps they don’t want to understand – what lawyers are supposed to do – defend their clients. After all, everyone in the United States deserves legal representation, even those here illegally or accused of sexual assault. And simply because lawyers defend people’s rights does not mean they personally embrace their clients’ positions.

Nonetheless, you have to figure that most votes that go to the conservatives are votes that normally would have gone to Bramnick and Munoz.

Asked about this after the event, Munoz decried the fact Marks and Pappas seem to be concentrating on federal, not state, issues. And if their presence in the race helps the Dems win, “Shame on them,” Munoz said.

As for the governor, he said he’s going to “work like heck” – in fact, “morning, noon and night” to get more Democrats elected to the Legislature this year throughout New Jersey.

“So are we,” said Munoz, who was listening nearby.

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