February 15, 2017

PCDO Endorses John Wisniewski For Governor

An overflow crowd attending a gubernatorial candidate forum at the Suzanne Patterson Center, held by the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO) Sunday evening, February 12, officially endorsed Assemblyman John Wisniewski for New Jersey governor in the next election.

After a first round of voting by PCDO members, Mr. Wisniewski and fellow candidate Phil Murphy, a financier and former U.S. ambassador, competed in a run-off. Mr. Wisniewski won with just over 60 percent of the vote, which is the amount required for the PCDO’s endorsement. Also appearing at the forum were State Senator Raymond Lesniak and former Treasury official and federal prosecutor Jim Johnson.

Each candidate presented a brief opening statement after which moderator Dwaine Williamson asked them questions supplied by the crowd. The event was posted live on Facebook, which is how dozens of people who couldn’t get in were able to participate. While no official count was taken, all 350 chairs were taken and there were at least 100 more people standing.

“The fire marshal says standing room only is 500. We were trying to ‘guestimate’” said Paul Gilmore, a member of the PCDO executive board, on Monday. “It was huge. We got to the point where it became clear that it was a potential safety issue. We did turn people away, and some of them got their ballots and waited outside. It was certainly beyond our expectations.”

Every meeting the PCDO has held since the November presidential election has been close to overflowing, Mr. Gilmore said. “People are looking for ways to get involved and put some energy behind their concerns and actually do stuff,” he said. “I think maybe it was Phil Murphy who said last night that following the election, a lot of people not happy with the outcome were really energized and ready to do whatever they could to fight back against what they fear the new administration represents. And since only two states are having elections this year [New Jersey and Virginia], New Jersey is really important.”

Questions at the forum included such topics as immigration, the Affordable Care Act, pension reform, charter schools, and the gas tax. Each candidate had their own visions and proposals, Mr. Gilmore said, but were in agreement in their rejection of the current Christie administration and in their commitment to electing a Democratic candidate as the next governor of New Jersey.

Mr. Wisniewski chaired New Jersey’s campaign for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. He has been especially active in the investigation of the Christie administration’s Bridgegate scandal, the mention of which elicited cheers from the audience. “The Democratic party needs to nominate candidates who represent the hopes and dreams of the working men and working women of New Jersey and not special interests,” he said. Mr. Wisniewski praised the PCDO for its activities, specifically the idea of “listening to candidates, making an endorsement.”

Mr. Johnson, a New Jersey native, said “Real change requires real democracy. It requires what we have in this room today.” He spoke of New Jersey’s high rate of foreclosures and said the state should invest in new enterprises rather than giving tax subsidies to existing businesses. Mr. Lesniak told the crowd he would “lead the fight against Trump’s policy in Washington, in Trenton, wherever it is I’ll be there fighting for them.” His administration would not approve any permits for the Penn East Pipeline and would double the funding for Planned Parenthood. “I’m not running for governor to win. I’m running to make a difference. And that’s why I will win,” he said.

Mr. Murphy pledged to raise the minimum wage to $15, fight for earned sick leave, and a child dependent care tax credit. “Given this president, we need a governor who will fight not just for himself or some of us, but all nine million of us in this great state,” he said.

Responding to questions from the audience on education, Mr. Murphy said he is against the expansion of the Princeton Charter School. “It does not have support, as far as I can tell,” he said. “Without the local support, there is not the rationale to pursue expansion.” Mr. Wisniewski commented that there should be a moratorium on opening new charter schools. Mr. Lesniak told the audience he is not against charter schools but they should have the same oversight as public schools.

The PCDO’s next meeting is March 19, during which there will be a candidate forum and membership endorsement votes for local races.