Zwicker v. Pappas: The Fight for Bateman’s LD16 Senate Seat

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker thanks Gov. Phil Murphy for working with the NJ legislature on the dark money disclosure bill.

LD-16 in central Jersey is a bit unusual.

It’s one of the few split districts in the state. The two assembly members are Democrats and the senator is a Republican.

Whether that breakdown remains will be determined Nov. 2.

The intriguing race is for the Senate, where Republican Kip Bateman is retiring.

Democrat Andrew Zwicker (pictured, top), who is now in the Assembly, wants to “move up” and replace him. Zwicker brings uncommon credentials to Trenton, He is a physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab.

The Republican candidate, Michael Pappas, also has an interesting background. He served two years in Congress in the late 1990’s. Former members of Congress don’t always run for state Legislative seats.

The Bateman name is held in high esteem in the district thanks to both the retiring incumbent, Kip, and his late father, Ray Bateman.

At a Sept. 22 debate, Pappas said his support for a religious exemption to vaccine mandates is precisely the position of Kip Bateman.

Zwicker is a fan of Kip Bateman as well.



“He showed what thoughtful and bipartisan legislation and politics looked like,” he said of the retiring senator.

That type of thinking probably helped Bateman survive in a district that is growing more Democratic. Republicans are now outnumbered by about 21,000 voters in a district that includes parts of Hunterdon and Somerset counties and one town each in Mercer (Princeton) and Middlesex (South Brunswick).

All things being equal, the Democratic registration seems to make Zwicker the favorite.

And that’s probably why the debate between the two unfolded with Zwicker avoiding attacks and Pappas being the aggressor.

Zwicker’s opening statement stressed his support for clean air and water and for preserving open space. Nothing controversial about that.

Pappas took a different approach, talking about how the pandemic has devastated New Jersey and how Zwicker by his silence has done nothing to oversee the broad powers of the governor.

As Republicans are wont to do, Pappas brought up the thousands of New Jerseyans who have died in nursing homes. He said an investigation is definitely needed by the state. The federal government, in fact, has an ongoing investigation into nursing home deaths.

Zwicker agreed that an investigation is needed, but stressed that nothing about dealing with a pandemic that last occurred 100 years ago is easy.

“The governor had to make some very difficult decisions,” he said.

Property taxes are always a hot topic in New Jersey and this debate was no exception.

Pappas asserted that Zwicker is responsible for increasing property taxes. This really is a hard argument to make, considering that property taxes are levied by local governments, not the state.

Pappas explained that Zwicker’s support for such “unfunded mandates” as body cameras for police officers contribute to rising property taxes. Pappas vowed to support no unfunded mandates.

School taxes make up the biggest chunk of property taxes throughout the state.

So, how about consolidating districts?

Zwicker said he wants to “incentivize” districts to merge.

Pappas didn’t disagree, but stressed that any such mergers have to be voluntary, not compelled by the state.

Time for some cynicism. Without the state forcing the hands of school districts to merge, nothing will happen.

There were no sharp, or passionate, disagreements during the debate. But there was a minor dustup.

Zwicker was stressing the need to respect each other’s views when it came to the pandemic.

“We have to do what’s right for each other – stop politicizing masks and vaccines,” he said.

Pappas quickly responded that Zwicker fails to do that himself. He asserted that Zwicker gave a dismissive gesture to people demonstrating in Trenton because he disagreed with them.

He said Zwicker’s “attitude was not one of a leader.”

Zwicker let the comment pass.

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