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(Photo by E.J. Greenblat)

AN EYE ON TRENTON: U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NJ), a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, spoke Sunday at the Princeton Community Democratic Organization's "Candidates' Night" at the Suzanne Patterson Center in Princeton Borough. Mr. Corzine addressed issues ranging from health care and education to the environment.

Democratic Event Features Corzine, Candidates Endorsed

Matthew Hersh

In one of his most recent stops on a statewide campaign for the executive office, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NJ) appeared at a local democratic event Sunday night to deliver the key points in his campaign as he looks toward the November election. Talking on a broad range of issues at the Princeton Community Democratic Organization's "Candidates' Night" at the Suzanne Patterson Center, Mr. Corzine said his aim would be to end the long line of corruption in state politics and the practice of "pay-to-play."

The event gave Mr. Corzine an opportunity to expand on his platform, as well as stumping for candidates of the 15th Assembly District, Mercer County Sheriff, Mercer County Freeholder, and for candidates of the Democratic State Committee. Mr. Corzine, who gave a broad overview of his stance on the issues in an unscripted 15-minute presentation, said that while he is happy with his accomplishments in the U.S. Senate, he would rather work out of Trenton than Washington D.C.

"I really do think we can make a difference in how the world is going to work for eight-and-a-half million New Jerseyans," he said. "I care deeply about this opportunity, but if we don't do the work, we won't get the results." In addressing the state's current financial crisis, Mr. Corzine underlined the need to create the post of an elected state comptroller to audit government accounts and to certify expenditures.

"I wouldn't run Goldman Sachs without an independent audit, I can assure you," he said, referring to his position as co-chairman and chief executive officer of the investment company Goldman Sachs prior to being elected to the Senate in November 2000. Having a comptroller, Mr. Corzine said, would lessen the power currently held by the state executive office.

"I don't understand how we can have all the power wrapped up in one office ‹ [former Chicago Mayor Richard] Daly may have liked it, but I don't," he said.

If elected governor, Mr. Corzine would relinquish his post as Senator after completing only four years of his six-year term. Of his unfinished business in the Senate, he said he would want to address the Bush administration's aim to overhaul Social Security retirement by diverting some payroll taxes into private investment accounts. Mr. Bush has said that this will lift financial burdens as more members of the Baby Boom generation begin to retire.

While not refuting the notion that funds for Social Security will eventually dry up, Mr. Corzine did not agree with Mr. Bush's handling of that potential crisis.

"There is a problem," he said, acknowledging that full guaranteed benefits would not be available in 75 years while adding that "it's flat-out wrong for the President to say [Social Security] is bankrupt, and it's flat-out wrong to say that there's a crisis. The one thing I want to do before I get out of [Senate] office, is to make sure that we don't tear apart Social Security. This is a contract, an insurance policy for all of us for everything that goes on in life, and it's not just for retirees, it's for the disabled, surviving spouses and children, and people who lose loved ones." In the face of rising insurance rates, Mr. Corzine said he believes the government could be "doing a better job" in negotiating with the insurance companies.

As many members of both factions of the state legislature look to see how property taxes can somehow be capped, Mr. Corzine called reliance on that revenue as "regressive," suggesting that the tax could be revised "somehow, someway." But he did say that if there were to be ceilings placed on property taxes, revenue would have to be found in other places.

"I don't want people to think this is a free lunch; it's not like we can do that and say we're not going to have a quality health care system, or a quality education system." While Mr. Corzine said he was "not prepared" to say where the additional revenue would come from, he said it could start with more "controlled spending."

Reed Gusciora, who is running for his sixth term in the state's 15th Assembly District, said that "too many seniors and too many young people are frozen out of property ownership" due to rising levels in property taxes.

The state legislature is now considering holding a constitutional convention to look at the way the state acquires its money. Currently, New Jersey and Connecticut have the highest dependency on property tax for funding municipal and school services in the country. The legislature has the opportunity to put a question on the November ballot that would allow the state to move forward with a constitutional convention.

Mr. Gusciora lauded the efforts put forth in taking legislative action against certain historic properties requesting tax exemption. He and Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer) who is also up for re-election, introduced legislation saying that historical landmarks seeking property tax exemption would need to open their doors to the public no less than 90 days a year. The bill stemmed from a tax-exemption effort by the eating club, the Cottage Club, which currently pays Princeton Borough $59,000 per year in property taxes. The assemblyman also said he would look to address gang violence in his next term by creating more opportunities for youths who are susceptible to becoming involved in gang activity. Ms. Watson Coleman said one of her aims if elected to a fifth term would be toward affordable housing. "We're trying to fight our way to ensure that the most vulnerable are taken care of." She also worried about New Jersey's "tremendous vulnerability" in terms of homeland security: "New Jersey has to figure out how additional security can be found."

In addition to Mr. Corzine, Mr. Gusciora, and Ms. Watson Coleman, the PCDO endorsed Kevin Larkin for Mercer County Sheriff, Lucy Walter and Tony Mack for Mercer County Freeholder, and Gil Lugossy, Andrew Koontz, Manuel Segura, Marge Caldwell Wilson, and Linda Reith for the Democratic State Committee.


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