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Area pols and agencies weigh in on health-care bill

Democratic members of Congress and Jewish organizations around the region lauded the health-care bill signed into law earlier this week, even as Republicans prepared to launch legal challenges.

After watching President Obama sign the legislation into law on Tuesday morning, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-8), one of the bill’s sponsors, told this paper that the legislation is “a big step forward.”

“The benefits are just outstanding,” he said.

The bill, he said, guarantees that no one can be denied health coverage because of pre-existing conditions. He also cited tax credits to 116,000 families and 15,200 small businesses in his district.

The congressman summed up the bill in a single phrase: “Health security.”

“Those left out [of coverage] with preconditions will no longer be denied,” he said. “That’s a huge change.”

Pascrell lashed out at the bill’s critics who have repeatedly warned that the legislation would lead to health-care rationing or that those satisfied with their current coverage would be forced to abandon it.

“Existing plans are grandfathered under this bill,” he said. “I am tired of the lies and misrepresentations and prejudicial statements.”

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5), a critic of the bill who was one of 212 to vote against it in Sunday’s House vote, did not return calls or e-mail requests for comment. A statement on his Website blasted the health bill.

“While I appreciate the efforts of the majority to reform our health-care system, it is hard to underestimate what a grave mistake it would be to enact this bill,” he said in the statement. “It would fundamentally alter our citizens’ relationship with their government. It would seriously jeopardize our nation’s long-term prosperity. It would dampen the vitality of our nation’s health-care innovators. It would restrict choice and access to medical care for millions of our nation’s elderly and poor. It would tax hundreds of billions of dollars out of the economy in the midst of one of the most serious economic downturns in our nation’s history. And for all this — for all of these thousands of pages and hundreds of new bureaus, boards, and bureaucracies — it won’t make America any healthier.”

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), one of 219 “yes” votes from the House, said in a statement sent to this paper, “This legislation will make a marked improvement in the lives of my constituents and will be a great step forward beyond the present system now causing so much cost, heartache, and tragedy to so many throughout my congressional district, New Jersey, and our entire country.”

The bill also earned praise from area Jewish organizations, including Jewish Family Services, which frequently serve clients without any insurance coverage.

“We work with a lot of people who have no insurance whatsoever,” said Lisa Fedder, executive director of JFS of Bergen and North Hudson in Teaneck. “The fact that more people will be able to be insured and get the services they need is a great opportunity.”

The bill will have a large impact on people who lost their jobs during the economic crisis and are still struggling to make ends meet, as well as those working for small businesses that had begun to stop paying for their employees’ health care, Fedder said.

“It’s not a perfect bill, but I think it’s a great beginning,” said Leah Kaufman, executive director of JFS of North Jersey in Wayne.

Kaufman has seen many clients who have no insurance and no steady income put off doctor’s visits to avoid racking up bills. This legislation, she said, would provide them with the coverage they need. She also praised the bill’s inclusion of children up to age 26 on their parents’ policies as helpful, since many recent college graduates are struggling to find work.

“There are so many people out there who can’t get medical care because they don’t have coverage and can now get that kind of care,” she said.

Rabbi Neal Borovitz, spiritual leader of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge and a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, called the new legislation the best possible for now.

“I don’t think it answers all of the issues facing us, but it’s an improvement,” he said. “To me, we can’t aim for perfection. We have to always try to look for the best possible solution. This health-care bill is the best possible that could be achieved at this moment in time.”

Jacob Toporek, executive director of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, which represents in Trenton the Garden State’s 12 federations, praised the bill’s inclusion of the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act.

“From that perspective,” Toporek said, the bill is “a major plus for the Jewish community.”

The CLASS Act is a provision that would create a voluntary disability insurance program for adults with long-term needs and alleviate pressure on the Medicaid program. According to the legislation, eligible enrollees who need assistance performing common daily activities — such as dressing, bathing, and eating — would receive cash benefits to pay for support services in a community setting. The Jewish Federations of North America had lobbied for the act’s inclusion in the health bill.

“How better to practice tikkun olam than by providing these people who are in need with the ability to get mended?” Toporek said.

“Clearly it pleases all of us as professionals that more people will be covered under health-care coverage,” said Charles Berkowitz, executive vice president of The Jewish Home at Rockleigh. “There are people who will be able to get great coverage now that couldn’t before.”

For more about the bill see Groups pushed health reform, but some keeping quiet on bill.

 
 

Record delegation from NORPAC advocates for Israel in D.C.

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Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) meets with a delegation from NORPAC.

At 4:30 a.m. last Wednesday, while most people were still dreaming in bed, 1,040 people were getting ready to join the NORPAC Mission to Washington. The non-partisan North Jersey political action committee supports the U.S.-Israel relationship by advocating on key issues, including foreign aid, Palestinian incitement, the Middle East peace process, and Iran sanctions.

Twenty-four buses pulled up to the Washington Convention Center in the late morning to be greeted by a lineup of speakers from Congress as well as a keynote speaker. The participants flooded two ballrooms and began the program by singing The Star Spangled Banner, Hatikvah, and in recognition of Yom Yerushalayim, “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav.”

After an introduction by Dr. Richard Schlussel, the mission chair, speakers included Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), former Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), and Reps. Mike Castle (R-Del.) and Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) Dr. Mort Fridman, NORPAC vice president, introduced the keynote speaker, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.

Following the speeches, 450 members of Congress — including 95 senators — held private meetings with NORPAC participants, who advocated on four issues.

The first issue was the 2011 foreign aid request for Israel, which is expected to be $3 billion. Of that aid, 70 percent is in the form of credits to be spent in the United States, supporting high-tech defense jobs.

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Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren addresses the group.

“This aid is more of an investment than an expense,” said Dr, Ben Chouake, NORPAC president. “Given Israel’s strategic location on the Mediterranean with access to the Red Sea, and other vital shipping lanes, it is imperative that Israel continues to serve as a port of call for our military and intelligence operations,”

Participants noted to members of Congress that the United States is slated to provide a $550 million aid package to the Palestinians in the disputed territories and Gaza. They wanted assurances that the Palestinian Authority would be held accountable for the allocation of the funds, inasmuch as more than $7 billion of aid to the Palestinians cannot be accounted for. NORPAC members also advocated that U.S. aid be conditional on ending anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement in Palestinian news broadcasts, publications, and schools.

The participants urged the lawmakers to support the U.S.-led peace process, under which Arab states and the Palestinians must accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel. According to Chouake, “Although the current Israeli government has accepted the concept of a two-state solution and has made countless other concessions, Arabs and Palestinians refuse to even recognize a Jewish state. Peace cannot possibly be achieved when one of the parties is unwilling to recognize the other.”

The last item on the NORPAC agenda called for urging legislators to encourage the process to proceed and to support the final version of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act of 2009.

Different versions of this bill have been passed by the Senate and House and are now in reconciliation. Mission members stressed the importance of the bill’s passage in order to send a clear message to Teheran that its current course toward nuclear armament cannot stand.

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Rep. Eric Cantor was one of the speakers

According to Chouake, who said that NORPAC put the Iran Sanctions bill on the map three years ago, it is critically close to passage. He added that members of Congress from both parties agreed that time is running out to address this existential threat to the world and, in consensus fashion, pledged to resist attempts to weaken or delay the bill.

The group heard concluding addresses by Reps. Eric Cantor (R-W.V.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), and Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).

Schlussel said of the mission, “We were all gratified at seeing so many of our members being received so graciously by our nation’s leaders.”

For more information on NORPAC and the mission, go to www.norpac.net or call (201) 788-5733.

 
 

Inside the Beltway

The Israel advocate’s guide to politics

As tensions continue to rise in the Middle East, New Jersey’s members of the House of Representatives took action last last month to support Israel’s military superiority in the region and enforce sanctions against Iran.

Israel’s missile defense

The Appropriations Defense Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives has appropriated $217.7 million — the highest amount on record, according to Washington sources — in funding for joint U.S.-Israel missile defense programs. The appropriation — the highest on record for such projects, according to Washington sources — is $95.7 million more than the original request.

According to Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), a member of the Appropriations Committee, the Defense Subcommittee has allocated more than $750 million in federal funds for the Arrow and David’s Sling anti-missile systems since 2007.

“Chairman Norm Dicks, myself, and all the members of the Defense Subcommittee understand how important it is to be at the cutting edge of anti-missile technology, both to safeguard our own citizens and troops, but also those citizens and troops of our allies and friends, such as the people of the Jewish State of Israel,” Rothman said in a statement to this newspaper.

“Given the concern and attention that we are focusing now on every dollar we are expending on behalf of the U.S. taxpayer for all purposes, including the defense of the United States and its allies,” the statement continued, “it is a mark of the importance of these projects that they were all funded so robustly and fully by our subcommittee.”

The subcommittee has also allocated $205 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which the Jewish state expects to deploy in the fall.

The Defense Subcommittee has allocated nearly $1 billion toward these three programs since 2007.

“The growing proliferation and increasing deadliness of missiles around the world pose a direct threat to the U.S. and our allies, making funding missile defense systems vitally important for America’s national security,” said Rothman.

Sanctioning Iran

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) last week wrote to President Obama urging him to withdraw the United States from the U.N. Human Rights Council because of the council’s anti-Israel bias and poor record.

Garrett put his pen to work again later in the week and fired off another letter to Obama and another to Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), chair of the House’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, urging follow-up action on Iranian sanctions recently passed in Congress.

The July 28 letter to Obama, who signed the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 in early July, requested a response from the president with a list of actions taken to implement the sanctions. The letter was signed by 38 Republican members of the House. The July 29 letter to Berman thanked the representative for his tough words on Iran but included a similar demand to know what action Berman would take. That letter was signed by 15 members of the House.

“Time is of the essence when you are dealing with a rogue state that poses a clear and present danger not just to the United States, but to our close ally Israel,” Garrett said in a statement to the Standard. “I want to ensure there is adequate oversight and robust accountability of the Obama administration’s efforts to implement the Iran sanctions legislation.”

A look at Lockerbie

The Senate Appropriations Committee last week approved a FY 2011 State and Foreign Operations funding measure from Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) that would require a State Department report on the early release of Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi. The amendment requires the secretary of state to submit a report within 180 days of the legislation that describes the circumstances that led to al-Megrahi’s release.

Scottish authorities released al-Megrahi from his life sentence last year after doctors diagnosed him with cancer and estimated he had only a few months to live. He has exceeded that initial estimate, which has led to questions of the Scottish and British governments and BP as to whether a deal was made to free al-Megrahi in exchange for access to Libyan oil.

“A formal State Department review will help provide answers to the many troubling questions surrounding the early release of the Lockerbie bomber,” Lautenberg said in a statement. “Nearly a year after his release, al-Megrahi remains alive while the authorities responsible for his freedom continue to point fingers and dodge questions. We must continue our rigorous investigation of this travesty to learn the truth and send a message that terrorists do not deserve any compassion.”

A Senate hearing to examine the circumstances surrounding al-Megrahi’s release had been scheduled for last week but was postponed.

 
 

Bringing down the house: Beth Aaron expanion ‘long overdue’

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Photos from http://www.bethaaron.org

With several mighty blows of a backhoe, the house next to Cong. Beth Aaron in Teaneck was razed last week, launching the long awaited expansion project of the synagogue at 950 Queen Anne Road.

The $2.4 million project calls for a larger lobby, a new multi-purpose room, a new teen minyan space, and additional youth department rooms.

The multi-purpose room will provide more functional space for lectures, community events and social programming, such as the Shabbat morning kiddush, said Larry Kahn, co-chair of the expansion committee. The new youth department rooms, located on the lower level, will accommodate the increasing number of children attending groups on Shabbat and holidays.

The construction will also add 65 seats to the main sanctuary, restoring 35 seats that were lost roughly nine years ago when the synagogue bought permanent pews and adding 30 seats on top of that, Kahn said.

Construction — scheduled to begin in the next few weeks by the Ridgewood-based firm Visbeen Construction — is expected to conclude late next spring.

The house, which Beth Aaron had owned, had been rented by Rabbi Ephraim Simon, executive director of Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen County, who has moved to the north side of Teaneck.

With a roster of some 300 member-families, the expansion of Beth Aaron’s building —which hasn’t been updated since 1986 — is long overdue, congregants say.

Pews at Shabbat services are often packed, and several minyanim need to be held simultaneously to accommodate everyone. The Shabbat morning kiddush draws overflow crowds and members have lamented for years about the cramped party room where it’s difficult to host a sizeable brit breakfast or bar/bat mitzvah luncheon.

Parents have also grumbled about the challenge of running youth groups for children on Shabbat and holiday mornings when the classroom space is inadequate for all the grades.

Indeed, said Rabbi Lawrence Rothwachs, it is not easy to serve the needs of everyone in the congregation in the current building. “This project will enhance our shul in numerous ways and allow us to serve all our members from the very young to old…. We’re extremely excited about the expansion. We are hopeful that this will be the beginning of another wonderful chapter in the history of our beit knesset.”

Synagogue President Larry Shafier said the new facility will allow us to “better serve our members and guests by providing for concurrent and additional prayer opportunities, classes, children, teen and youth programming, and an enhanced and more meaningful experience for everyone.”

Plans for the expansion were first introduced to the Orthodox synagogue in 1999. The project lay dormant for a number of years and was reactivated in 2006 after Rothwachs arrived at the shul.

Some congregants initially voted against the expansion, citing concerns about its high cost in a turbulent economy. But now, many of its critics have become staunch supporters of the project.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the amount and number of donations, especially in an uncertain economy, and we’re now running ahead of projections,” said Allen Friedman, co-chair of the expansion committee. “All of this indicates to us the importance the kehilla [the community] attaches to the project.”

The donations cover close to half of the project cost. But the synagogue still continues to collect more on its website. http://www.bethaaron.org., Friedman said.

“If we want a kehilla that will continue to be warm and to flourish, we need a building that let’s that happen.”

When the plan was initially proposed to the townshp, some neighbors expressed concern that an expanded building would bring more noise and parking woes to the neighborhood. But after they were invited to spend an evening at the synagogue to review the plans, they were won over, said Kahn. The township’s board of adjustment voted unanimously in favor of the project in 2009.

Beth Aaron was established in 1972 by Rabbi Meir Gottesman in a home on West Englewood Avenue at a time when many young people felt disenfranchised with their parents’ establishment synagogues, recalls longtime member and founder Mollie Fisch. Gottesman aimed to create a congregation that would attract young people who were rebelling against their parents and joining cults or running off to the Far East, she said. A Merrison Avenue family offered its basement in 1972 as a place for the congregation to meet and, years later, Dr. Stuart Littwin offered his home on Queen Anne Road, which eventually became the site for the existing synagogue building.

Although the expansion comes with hefty bills for members, Kahn says it has been met mostly with eager anticipation. “Many people are enthusiastic about the shul beginning a new chapter in its existence,” he said. “They’re looking forward to more opportunity for social interaction as well as spiritual growth in a setting that is conducive for that.”

 
 

House members put brakes on aid to Lebanon

 

Making a reservation for the Tea Party, and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

With a little more than a month to go before November’s mid-term elections, a new player has emerged on the field causing ripples in the Republican world and a mix of worry and relief among Democrats.

We speak, of course, of the Tea Party, the grassroots movement of protests that’s been sweeping the nation since early 2009. A number of Tea Party candidates have fared well in recent Republican primary elections, beating out GOP-favored opponents.

Most notably, Tea Party candidate Joe Miller upset Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary for her Senate seat, and Christine O’Donnell beat out GOP-favored U.S. Rep. Michael Castle in Delaware’s Republican Senate primary last month.

“The national Tea Party movement is the embodiment of political activism,” Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) said in a statement to The Jewish Standard. “Based on the results of recent primary elections, it’s hard to deny the influence the Tea Party movement has had on politics the last year. If the past is any indication of things to come, there is no doubt in my mind that the Tea Party movement will have an impact on the elections in November and beyond.”

Dr. Ben Chouake, president of the Englewood-based Israel political action committee NORPAC and a registered Republican, believes the Tea Party candidates are too far to the right to win in the general elections. While NORPAC focuses solely on candidates’ records on Israel, the Tea Party has put forward a cast of unknown candidates that has made life more difficult for the PAC to quickly determine their positions.

“Sometimes people are overly enthusiastic and trend toward candidates unvetted and poorly qualified,” he said.

The Tea Party victory in the Delaware primary has assured Democrat Chris Coons a victory in the race to fill the Senate seat vacated by Vice President Joe Biden, according to Chouake. Castle, a former two-term governor, was the GOP’s best hope at winning the open seat, he said.

“The likelihood of the Senate switching majorities in this cycle has become slim because of the influence of the Tea Party in the Senate primaries,” Chouake said.

Tea Partier Sharron Angle, a former Nevada state representative, won the GOP nomination to face Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in November, which, in Chouake’s opinion, almost guarantees the senator a victory.

“Sharron Angle is probably the weakest candidate in the field, at least according to the polls,” Chouake said. “While we’re neutral on the Tea Party issues, we’re happy to see Harry Reid has this best chance at re-winning his seat because he’s a good friend on U.S.-Israel relations.”

Reid visited Englewood on Sunday for a NORPAC fund-raising event — closed to the press — that drew about 30 people and raised between $25,000 and $30,000 for the senator’s re-election bid.

“On our issue he’s tremendously supportive,” Chouake said. “He has a deep understanding of the problems the Jews have had throughout history.”

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Reid is confident in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ability to win a peace agreement because he has support from Israel’s left and right wings, Chouake said.

Regarding Iran, Chouake said that Reid preferred to avoid military action but all options had to remain on the table because a nuclear Iran is the worst-case scenario.

Earlier this week, Senate Republicans blocked Democrat-sponsored legislation that would have overturned the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” A 56-43 vote defeated a $726 billion defense spending bill that included a pay raise for troops and a repeal of the controversial policy that blocks openly gay soldiers from serving.

Democrats fell far short of the 60 votes needed to advance the legislation. Reid voted against the bill, citing a Senate rule that allows him to reintroduce the legislation later if he votes with the majority.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) condemned Republicans for blocking the legislation. “This bill provides our military with new equipment and authorizes pay and health programs for our brave men and women,” he said in a statement. “This bill would also authorize the long overdue repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ No American should be barred from serving in our military simply because of their sexual orientation.”

 
 

Fixing leaks and the Middle East

The United States continues to deal with repercussions of the WikiLeaks revelations, while the Israel-Palestinian conflict has taken a new turn.

WikiLeaks and Lockerbie

WikiLeaks revealed last week that Libya threatened Great Britain with “harsh, immediate” consequences if Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, the sole person convicted in the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, died in prison. Megrahi, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer while serving his life sentence, was released from Scottish prison in August 2009 after doctors said he had only months to live.

Inside the Beltway

Megrahi’s release sparked protests in the United States, especially from New Jersey’s representatives in Washington. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) has repeatedly called for a Senate investigation into Megrahi’s release. Calls to Lautenberg’s office were not returned.

Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9), told The Jewish Standard earlier this week that the latest batch of WikiLeaks documents contained “virtually no surprises” but the revelations have damaged the diplomatic flexibility of the United States and other nations.

“I find it ironic that a group that claims to be for peace would place a chilling effect on international diplomacy for the foreseeable future,” he said. “The United States government has taken immediate steps and begun long-range efforts to minimize the chances of such a massive leak of classified documents. There will never be any leak-proof system, but this latest round of WikiLeak releases has engendered the appropriate level of serious attention to these matters.”

Money for Iron Dome

The House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution last week to fund the rest of fiscal year 2011 by a vote of 212 to 206. Included in the spending bill, which divided Democrats and Republicans, was $205 million for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, which the Jewish state is developing to defend against kassam rockets.

In a statement to the Standard, Rothman said he was “extremely pleased and proud that President Obama’s allocation for Israel’s Iron Dome program was included in the House’s funding bill for the upcoming year.

“This was a priority of Congress and President Obama, and it is the first funding of its kind for this important short-range rocket and artillery shell defense system.”

The allocation is in addition to the more-than-$200 million already allocated for the Arrow and David’s Sling missile defense systems, jointly developed by Israel and the United States.

“This funding sends a strong message, to both our enemies and allies, by providing more total dollars than ever before toward these rocket and missile defense programs,” Rothman said.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-8) voted for the bill, but Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5) joined with other House Republicans in opposing the bill because of other spending attached to it.

“At a time when American families are making personal sacrifices to reduce their family budgets and cut back expenses, I could not in good conscience vote for a federal spending bill that fails to do the same,” Garrett said in a statement to the Standard. “It’s unfortunate that the Iron Dome defense system had to be attached to such a controversial spending bill. I have long advocated separating U.S. funding assistance for Israel’s defense from contentious measures like the bill voted on last week.”

Palestine: To be or not to be

Two South American countries last month recognized the state of Palestine on the 1967 armistice lines. Increasingly, voices within the Palestinian Authority are calling for unilateral recognition by the United Nations of a Palestinian state, bypassing negotiations with Israel. The unilateral threats have been condemned in Washington, where members of Congress have begun to reconsider Palestinian financial aid.

Palestinian aid is important to U.S. and Israeli interests, as well as the Palestinians and peace process, Rothman said. “However, should the Palestinian Authority take unilateral actions, such as declaring itself a state without a prior agreement with the Jewish State of Israel, then the United States must seriously re-examine whether the Palestinian Authority is an appropriate recipient of U.S. foreign aid.”

Rothman called the South American recognition of Palestine “misguided and unhelpful” and said it would have “no practical effect” other than to draw negative attention from the United States.

“Instead of making pointless threats to unilaterally declare statehood, the Palestinian Authority must demonstrate its seriousness as a partner for peace with Israel and return to direct negotiations with Israel without preconditions and to resolve these matters in the interest of both parties,” he said.

Garrett also lashed out against Palestinian unilateral moves in a statement to the Standard, saying that such moves undermine the peace process and cause instability.

“This year, terrorists based in Gaza have fired hundreds of rockets and mortar shells into Israeli communities,” he said. “These human rights violations cannot be overlooked and I believe the P.A. has an obligation to discontinue attacks on Israel and affirm Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state.”

Garrett and Rothman joined 50 other House members in co-sponsoring a resolution, which passed a vote on Wednesday, in support of “a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and condemning unilateral measures to declare or recognize a Palestinian state, and for other purposes.” The resolution also calls on President Obama to deny recognition of a unilaterally declared Palestine and oppose global recognition.

 
 

The Human Rights Council and the rest of us

 

Teaneck’s Gussen seeks to take on Garrett

Self-proclaimed ‘blue dog’ Democrat says he has independent appeal

Larry YudelsonLocal
Published: 13 January 2012

Teaneck Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen has thrown his hat into the ring to challenge Rep. Ernest Scott Garrett, the Republican congressman and Wantage Township, Sussex County, resident whose district now takes in three-quarters of Teaneck, as well as a larger chunk of Bergen County than does his current 5th district.

This follows the redrawing of the state’s congressional districts last month in the wake of the 2010 census, which reduced New Jersey’s congressional delegation from 13 members to 12.

The new lines placed Rep. Steve Rothman’s Fair Lawn residence in Garrett’s expanded 5th District.

Rothman, however, chose not to challenge Garrett, who has a reported $1.5 million campaign war chest. (The Democratic party reportedly would have offered at least $1 million for Rothman’s campaign had he taken on Garrett.)

Instead, Rothman is moving back to Englewood — the town he once led as mayor and in which Garrett was born — to run against Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., in what will be a Democratic primary.

“There seemed to be a vacuum of [Democratic] candidates with a potential to be effective in a district that is Republican-leaning,” Gussen told The Jewish Standard. “I would consider myself of the ‘blue dog’ Democrat mold, with probably some appeal to independents and moderate Republicans.”

Gussen is forming an exploratory committee.

“For the sake of being able to beat Scott Garrett, I would hope the Democratic parties will consolidate around a single candidate,” he said.

Gussen faces “an uphill battle,” said Ben Dworkin, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University in Lawrenceville.

“Even in a district like the new fifth that is 45 percent, 46 percent Democratic, it will be tough to get over 50 percent, especially when you’re a relatively unknown candidate working against an incumbent who has represented 80 percent of the people in the district for a number of years,” said Dworkin.

“It’s a very labor-intensive and expensive endeavor,” he said of mounting a congressional challenge.

Responding to Gussen’s candidacy, Pascrell issued a statement: “Any Democrat willing to stand up and fight Congressman Garrett in the 5th Congressional District should be commended.”

And in a jab against Rothman, the statement continued:

“While some may fear tough races, other Democrats in the 5th Congressional District clearly realize that there are battles we need to fight for the soul of the Democratic Party. I applaud all good Democrats who are willing to offer a clear alternative to Garrett’s radical right agenda. It is good to see Democrats fighting for core principles. Too often, politicians would rather cut-and-run than stand and fight on the front lines in the battle to protect America’s disappearing middle class.”

But State Senator Loretta Weinberg defended Rothman. “This is Steve Rothman’s home district and anyone who says otherwise is simply wrong,” she said in a statement.

“Those who suggest that Congressman Rothman should run in Congressman Garrett’s new 5th district, which contains 80 percent of Garrett’s old 5th District, should be aware of the fact that the 9th is Rothman’s home district — where he was born, raised, has lived practically his entire life, and has represented in Congress for the past 15 years.”

Rothman also was endorsed by Assemblyman Gary Schaer, who like Pascrell is from Passaic.

In his endorsement, Schaer pointed to Rothman’s success in securing federal money for his constituents.

“Since going to Washington in 1997, Congressman Rothman has delivered more than $2 billion in federal funding to the 9th District and all of New Jersey. Though our state is losing a seat in Congress, Steve’s post on the House Appropriations Committee is simply too vital for us to do without,” said Schaer, who has the distinction of being the only Orthodox Jew in the Garden State’s lower house.

 
 
BREAKING NEWS

Garrett, Gussen spar on foreign policy

Fifth District candidate forum sponsored by Jewish Standard and JCRC

Larry YudelsonLocal
Published: 08 October 2012
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Adam Gussen (right) turns to Rep. Scot Garrett (center) during the candidates forum moderated by Daniel Kirsch (left).

Rep. Scott Garrett, the Republican representing New Jersey’s fifth Congressional district, faced off on Sunday for the first time against his challenger, Adam Gussen, the Democratic deputy mayor of Teaneck.

After this year’s redistricting, much of Teaneck is now part of the fifth district’s revised borders.

The two met at a forum sponsored by this newspaper and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern Jersey at Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Mahwah.

The meeting drew about 100 people.

Garrett argued that the United States must undo “the failed policies” of the last four years to restore the country.

Gussen charged that Garrett favors “big business and special interests” at the expense of New Jersey families.

The two candidates were asked questions on topics including the relationship between Israel and the United States; the country’s policy on Iran; the future of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security; the economy, and employment.

This article, the first of two, deals only with the foreign policy questions.

Garrett opened by declaring his commitment “to try to undo some of the damage that has been done to our country over the past four years.” That can be done, he said, by reducing both the size of the government and taxes.

“We don’t even want to go back to some of the failed policies of the prior administration as well,” he said.

Gussen opened by referring to his experience on Teaneck’s town council as well as his day job as a business development executive of Global Political Risk and Trade Credit Insurance.

“I know the tough decisions local government can face, and how government can be a partner that helps solve problems,” he said.

In his private sector work, “day in and day out I work with small and medium sized companies to expand and grow their revenues. It’s easy to see how career politicians do not understand the needs of businesses,” he said.

His reason for running: “Because we need leadership that will tackle the major problems affecting America head on, and not just the problems of hyperpartisanship.”

Dan Kirsch, a former JCRC president and the debate’s moderator, asked about the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Garrett, having won the coin toss, answered first.

“In a word, I would characterize our Mideast policy and relationship with Israel as a disaster — an absolute disaster — over these last four years,” he said.

President Obama, he said, “tried what some have characterized as a ‘charm offensive,’ and this has been a disaster in the Mideast.”

He accused Obama of “treating our friends as enemies, and enemies as friends,” pointing to the president finding it “more important to appear on television and do fundraising events than to meet with the prime minister of Israel.”

As a result of Obama’s policies, “we see the Mideast is in flames again,” he said.

Instead, America “should take a leadership role as we had in the past. We should make sure the world and Israel knows that she is our ally and we are hers.

“I have always felt there has been a bipartisan position on this, in the House of Representatives, to ensure the strong relationship with Israel stands. Under this administration, this bipartisanship has failed. We have not worked with Israel as we should,” Garrett said.

Gussen began his rejoinder by saying that “regardless of how Congressman Garrett may want to frame this as being about Obama, this is about the candidates for the fifth district.”

He said that the U.S.-Israel relationship “is one of great strength. Israel is a democratic country in a sea of despotism. Over six decades we have had a strong relationship with Israel based on shared values, and we need to continue this relationship.”

Gussen characterized the last four years as a time when America provided Israel with advanced defensive technology, including the Iron Dome anti-missile systems and an X-band radar station in the Negev, thus “giving Israel real-time data to protect from any possible threat from Iran.”

Military support, including joint training exercises, “is stronger and more concerted” than before, Gussen said.

“Garrett wants to frame it with some PR slips rather than the reality of the policy over the past four years. Israel is safer today that it was because of Iron Dome and the significant relationship we have,” Gussen continued.

“I have a deep and genuine love for the Jewish state of Israel. Our need to stand shoulder to shoulder cannot waiver,” he said.

But in his reply to Gussen, Garrett countered the notion that Israel is safer than it was four years ago, saying, “just this week they had a drone shot down in Israel.”

Obama’s perceived snubbing of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was not a PR slip, but “the policy of this administration from day one.”

Garrett said he had served on a conference committee dealing with a particular bill that tried to impose additional sanctions on Iran. “Where did we get the pushback from? Not from the other side of the aisle in the Senate. From the administration. They said we don’t need to do additional economic sanctions. They said all we need to do is containment if they [the Iranians] go further.”

Foreign policy was revisited later in the discussion, with the moderator asking specifically about Iran.

This time, it was Gussen’s turn to answer first.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map. This is an unacceptable position for a world leader. We cannot allow Iran to achieve nuclear capabilities under any circumstance,” he said.

Gussen took the opportunity to attack Garrett for voting to give copper mining privileges to Rio Tinto, a company that is partnered with Iran in an African uranium mine, while rejecting a Democratic amendment to that measure that would have required the mining company to divest from its relationship with Iran. All the Republicans in the House voted for the measure and against the amendment.

Gussen said that while “sanctions are the first step,” he is concerned that “no matter how difficult it becomes for Iran diplomatically, they will always prioritize hate and war over feeding their people. We cannot expect rational behavior from them.”

Consequently, “we must use every bit of leverage we have politically and globally to prevent” Iran’s nuclear ambitions. That, he said, means “being able to leverage our position on the global stage with the governments of China, Russia, and India, the people who are still buying oil from Iran, people who have worked around sanctions, people who do not have the same values we have on the issue. We must continue to bring pressure to bear.

“There is a red line: We cannot allow Iran to have nuclear weapons or to continue to pursue the capability,” Gussen concluded.

“The mining bill?” Garrett responded. “The truth of the matter is that the companies involved there were all in compliance with sanctions. No Israeli group, no Jewish group had complained.”

He said the Obama administration has had a “disastrous” effect on Mideast policies, “with Iran specifically.”

“One thing I’ve seen in my years studying international relations is this part of the world respects strength and not some sort of charm offensive,” he said.

He recalled the contrast between President Jimmy Carter and his successor, Ronald Reagan.

“Immediately after Reagan was elected, our hostages were released,” he said.

(Actually, the hostages were released not after the November 1976 election, but 20 minutes after Reagan finished his inaugural address in January 1977)

In contrast, Obama “does not stand up for American principles. This president would rather be on TV than meet with the prime minister of Israel. At the same time, he is more than happy to welcome a member of the Muslim Brotherhood to come to the White House,” said Garrett, referring to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

“What kind of message is it when this president wants to decimate this country’s military?” Garrett asked. “We cannot decimate our military and think we will have a strong positio in the world community.

“Containment — which apparently is the policy with regard to Iran and nuclear aggression — will not work,” he concluded.

Gussen replied, “I said from the start that containment will not work, and there’s real issues that we need to face.”

If Garrett “wants to continue to paint me with the same brush he paints the administration, that’s not my thoughts, that’s not my beliefs.”

Regarding the Rio Tinto mining company, “Rio Tinto was sanctioned by the U.N. six times” for violating sanctions. “It operates the world’s largest uranium mine, puts Iran as their largest partner. Rio Tinto wants benefits so they can mine copper. Garrett is okay with giving away the house to big business even if they’re in bed with Iran.”

 
 
 
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