Zero Hour in Bergen: The Rutherford Labor Day Street Festival

Rutherford Labor Day Festival

The Rutherford Labor Day Street Festival has been a tradition drawing in tens of thousands of visitors for some time now, and anyone who wants to make some face time does well to make an appearance there—even in the midst of intermittent rainstorms, as was the case Monday.  Enter, then, some of Bergen’s political and would-be political figures.

Democrat Frank Nunziato
Democrat Frank Nunziato, a councilman seeking to succeed outgoing Mayor Joseph DeSalvo, Jr.

Outside his campaign headquarters was a booth for Democrat Frank Nunziato, a councilman seeking to succeed outgoing Mayor Joseph DeSalvo, Jr.  Nunziato defeated Murphy-ally Stephanie McGowan and is running on a ticket with incumbent Councilmen Mark Goldsack and Thomas Mullahey.  Democratic campaigners marched with signs for Nunziato’s team along with incumbent Assemblymen Clinton Calabrese and Gary Schaer; plus Freeholders Germaine Ortiz, Thomas Sullivan, and Mary Amoroso.  The political representation extended to the federal level as well: Congressman Bill Pascrell and Congressman Josh Gottheimer made appearances and Bernie Sanders campaigners had set up a booth.  The Green Party of New Jersey was represented as well with Madelyn Hoffman—challenging Cory Booker for US Senate—and Craig Cayetano of Hawthorne (in Passaic), seeking his town’s 3rd ward council seat.

Schaer and Calabrese troops.
Schaer and Calabrese troops.

But heavily represented though it was, the political left was not the only show in town. Republicans Khaldoun Androwis and Foster Lowe ducked out of the rain to talk a moment while red signs were carried for Rutherford council candidates Ryan Weist, State Committeeman of the Bergen County Young Republicans, and businesswoman Kristina Gagliardi-Wilson.

Rutherford Labor Day Festival

Lowe is a property managing agent who ran for Assemblyman in district 36 with Rosina Romano against Democratic incumbents Gary Schaer and Marlene Caride in 2013. He was on the streets with financial executive and Wallington councilman Khaldoun Androwis in his second term.  Androwis and Lowe face a tough challenge against the incumbents.  Androwis cited Murphy’s troubles.  “I think for us we have some problems with Murphy and the EDA, Schools Development.  He stated he wants to make New Jersey a sanctuary state, we aren’t too pleased.  Taxes are always an issue.”  Lowe believes that to reduce the tax burden, an unpopular but-oft-cited option may have to be considered: shared services.  “I’m a home rule guy, but we may have to do something in the future.  Property taxes are out of control.  I think that’s what may have to be done.  People love their towns, we all do, but one of these days we may have to back off.”

Governor Phil Murphy championed adult-use marijuana, meeting with no success in the legislature.  Androwis and Lowe are only half-convinced.  “I don’t think we need recreational,” Androwis said, explaining that he made a motion to pass an ordinance in Wallington that no marijuana businesses could open in the borough if legalized statewide.  On medical, the two have no problem, but recreational, they say, presents a danger.

Foster said it had been years since LD36 had a Republican seat but the challengers were not daunted.  Paul DiGaetano was the last man to have a red Assembly seat, back in 2005, sharing the assembly slot with Democrat Frederick Scalera.  “I don’t vote by party line,” Androwis said, “I vote for what is best.”  He even had some kind words for Pascrell, saying he is “a good guy” but declined to say he would go so far as to vote for him.  “People gave us a chance to make sure we can do something better and more efficient for the district.  You need some new blood in there, some new ideas.”

Hoffman was another challenger on the ground in rainy Rutherford, fielding a third party campaign


against US Senator Cory Booker who is also seeking the Oval Office.   “I got 25,000 votes last time, the most of any third party candidate.  Booker and Menendez both have specific issues, they’re not the same, but the broader national issues are the same,” she said.  “Booker has water issues with lead contamination, with education, pharma…”

On Bernie next door, “It’s not competition, they’re going for Bernie in the primaries, then after that, all bets are off.  Some of them are Greens.”

“A lot of third parties are going to be under a lot of pressure to step aside, there’s a sentiment that ‘any blue will do’, I ran into that last time when I ran for US senate, but it’s going to be stronger this time.  My answer is that I can’t do that, I can’t do that in good conscience.  If we get Joe Biden, what have we changed?  It’s kind of scary that people are willing to accept ‘any Democrat’.”

Next to Hoffman’s booth was a stand for Bernie Sanders where campaigners were handing out literature.  “I can understand where Bernie Sanders offers, at least in rhetoric, something different,” Hoffman said, “but in reality will the Democrats ever give us something different?  We keep moving to the right—it’s the Green Party last year that got Democrats talking about a Green New Deal, one of the first issues they took up—they watered it down, but they were talking about it.  That’s why I feel the Greens are as important as ever.  In a democracy there should always be room for a third party and let the voters decide.”

Hoffman has been involved with the Green Party for over two decades.  She ran with Ralph Nader in 1996 as his vice presidential running mate and ran for NJ governor in 1997.  “‘If you keep voting for the lesser of two evils’,” she said, quoting Nader, “‘you keep getting evil and it keeps getting lesser and lesser’.  Case in point, Donald Trump.  That model has failed.  That’s why I feel it’s important to continue to run.  People can say what they like but we can’t step aside.  On the presidential election, I’m going to vote Green, even if Bernie Sanders wins.”

While Hoffman aspires to the US Senate, the borough of Hawthorne is the Green Party’s local-level battleground right now, with Craig Cayetano challenging Republican long-time incumbent Gary Sinning, the 3rd ward councilman.

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