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Mosque near Ground Zero?

Teaneck officials call Cordoba House case a reminder to protect freedom of religion

The New York Islamic center is a distraction from the real issues facing America, said Teaneck’s Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin.

“Regardless of whether this goes up, it’s not going to create jobs, it’s not going to get us out of the recession, it’s not going to make America safer,” the mayor told The Jewish Standard earlier this week.

Hameeduddin is the only Muslim mayor in New Jersey. The Teaneck Township Council appointed him and Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen, an Orthodox Jew, in July, but the two have known each other since their days at Teaneck High School. They have not seen the mosque issue drive a wedge between them or Teaneck’s fragile unity.

“We don’t agree on everything,” Gussen said. “The goodwill we’ve put in the bank over a decades-long friendship carries us through any differences we may have.”

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Teaneck Mayor Mohammad Hameeduddin, left, and Teaneck Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen File photos

On this issue, however, it appears the two are in lockstep agreement.

Constitutional freedoms are at the center of the Cordoba debate, Gussen said. The First Amendment states that Congress shall pass no law to impede the free practice of religion, and Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000 to strengthen freedom-of-religion claims in land-use and prison cases.

“The Religious Land Use Protection Act is special legislation that protects everyone’s freedom of religion, and either we’re for it and it applies to everybody, or we’re against it,” Hameeduddin said.

The Jewish community would not be thriving, as it is today, without constitutional religious freedoms, Gussen added.

“That we have freedom of religion and the ability to practice our faith the way we choose is essential,” he said. “We have to realize that everybody deserves those same freedoms, those same protections.”

Hameeduddin accepted an invitation to the White House for last Friday night, when President Obama addressed Muslim leaders in honor of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. During the evening, Obama spoke in support of Muslims’ right to build houses of worship, much to the surprise of his guests, Hameeduddin said. The president said on Saturday that he was not speaking specifically about the Cordoba House.

“There’s no need for him to weigh in,” the mayor said. “We understood what happened. As a politician he didn’t want to get stuck in the mud and [wanted to] just end the controversy.”

Gussen said that Jews should not join the anti-mosque bandwagon.

“As soon as a single religious group is singled out for treatment or religious persecution, the Jews will be next,” he said. “It’s essential we support other groups’ rights to practice their religion as needed.”

 
 

When is a twin (city) not a twin (city)?

When Wikipedia says it is

A 2007 editorial mistake by an unnamed Canadian has been roiling Teaneck township council meetings.

Earlier this year, Teaneck resident Rich Siegel discovered an article on Wikipedia that asserted that Teaneck was a twin city with Beit Yatir, a Jewish village just over the 1967 border in the west bank. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit, is one of the most popular sites on the internet.

Siegel, who describes himself as a Jewish anti-Zionist activist, set out to find the origins of this relationship.

“First I wrote the mayor and he ignored me,” Siegel told the Jewish Standard. Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin did not return requests for comment.

“Then I sent certified letters to the mayor and all the members of the town council. It was at some expense, but I wanted to show them I was serious about getting an answer,” Siegel said.

Siegel did hear from Elie Katz, a council member who is a former mayor, who said he had never heard of the twinning. Neither had Jacqueline Kates, a former mayor and former council member whose tenure on the council dated back to 1996.

Siegel spoke at a council meeting in January, demanding that township officials publicly renounce the connection. In February, following a letter he wrote on the topic that appeared in the Suburbanite, five other residents stood up at the council meeting to protest the reported twinning.

“We were able to determine that no one had brought this before the town council. They just decided to set the thing up unilaterally,” said Siegel.

Who “they” were was not clear to him.

However, an investigation of the editing history of the Wikipedia article about Beit Yatir shows that the reference to a twinning with Teaneck was inserted by a Canadian editor who goes by the name “Shuki.” Shuki had added a line that Beit Yatir was twinned with Teaneck in 2007, shortly after creating the article, which he based on one in the Hebrew edition of Wikipedia.

The Hebrew article, however, made no mention of a twinning relationship with Teaneck.

Shuki did not return a request for comment left on his Wikipedia user page. According to that page, he has created 149 Wikipedia articles and is responsible for more than 10,000 editorial changes to the site in his five years of Wikipedia involvement. Most of his articles concern Israeli places and personalities. He has been heavily involved in the disputes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian editors that make articles on topics as apparently neutral as hummus deeply contentious. In December, he was banned from editing Wikipedia for six months, for allegedly using a false account to vote on the deletion of controversial articles concerning Israelis and Palestinians.

So why did Shuki claim a connection between Beit Yatir and Teaneck?

Most probably because there actually is a link between the two communities: Beit Yatir has long been twinned with Teaneck’s Beth Aaron congregation.

The synagogue has supported Beit Yatir’s summer camp and playgrounds, according to congregation president Larry Shafier. Synagogue members visiting in Israel have gone to Beit Yatir and posted snapshots on the congregation’s website. Beit Yatir residents have written articles for the Beth Aaron newsletter.

As for the Beit Yatir article on Wikipedia: This week it was corrected to read that the twinning was with the congregation.

Could Teaneck decide to officially twin with an Israeli town?

“It would be something to be viewed on a case-by-case basis,” said Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen. “We certainly don’t have a policy for twinning with other municipalities.”

Siegel said he personally would oppose an effort to twin Teaneck with an Israeli city. “I’m an anti-Zionist. I would be personally against a twin town relationship within the Green Line as well.”

Nonetheless, he said, “if it went through proper channels, by a vote of the people of Teaneck or the town council, that would be none of my business. My concern is people acting unilaterally.”

At present, 18 New Jersey municipalities are twinned with foreign partners — if Wikipedia can be believed. And in the case of its listing of New Jersey municipal twinnings, it can’t be. According to the listing, the city of Camden has twinned with Gaza City.

But there are no citations, no references to the twinning discovered online, and, perhaps most compellingly, said David Snyder, the local Jewish official whose job it would be to monitor official ties between Camden and pro-Palestinian groups, that it’s news to him.

“I have never heard of this and cannot imagine it,” said Synder, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey. “I’ve been in the community for 20 years and that has never come up.”

Other synagogue twinning projects

Beth Aaron’s twinning with Beit Yatir is only one of a number of direct connections between Bergen County and Israel.

At least two other Orthodox congregations have twinned with communities in the west bank.

Cong. Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck has twinned with Otniel, a village of 120 families about seven miles northwest of Beit Yatir. The American congregation has bought security equipment for Otniel, and sends shalach manot to each resident on Purim.

The Young Israel of Fort Lee partners with Dolev. “In the early years, we supported them financially and helped them found a day care and kindergarten,” says Rabbi Neil Winkler.

Three additional congregations, two Reform and one Conservative, have twinned with Israeli congregations:

Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes is twinned with Cong. Yozma in Modiin. “In 2006, we brought a Torah to them. Since then, we visit Yozma every other year with our congregational trips,” says Rabbi Elyse Frishman.

Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge has a long-standing relationship with the Leo Baeck Center in Haifa, which includes sponsoring scholarships at the Reform community’s school.

The Jewish Community Center of Paramus is an overseas member of Kehilat Yaar Ramot, a Masorti congregation in Jerusalem. “We try to support their fund-raising efforts when we can,” says Rabbi Arthur Weiner.

 
 

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.

 
 

Mohammed Hameeduddin: Emphasizing commonality is key

As a long-time resident who is completing his first two-year term as mayor of Teaneck and was decisively re-elected to his third council term on Tuesday, Mohammed Hameeduddin has come to understand and revel in the commonalities between his Muslim community and the Jewish community which he serves, and which helped elect him.

Being on the campaign trail — such as it was, in the run-up to this past Tuesday’s municipal’s elections — highlighted one aspect of that commonality.

“The Jewish people of Teaneck are very similar to the Muslim community, because when you walk in, the first thing everybody makes sure to ask is ‘Did you eat?’ That’s the first question every grandmother asks. It’s very similar if you walk into a Muslim household from south Asia,” says Hameeduddin, whose parents came to America from India in the late 1960s.

“They’ll say, ‘Did you eat? Did you eat enough?’ If you were blind and walking into a room, you wouldn’t know if they were Muslim or Jewish,” he says.

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Teaneck’s Mayor Hameeduddin chats with a Jewish resident in a local diner. photos by Jerry Szubin

Hameeduddin’s familial roots in Teaneck are deep and wide. His parents moved here in 1981, following one of his uncles who bought a house in Teaneck back in 1973. His father and his uncle were among the founders of Teaneck’s Dar-ul-Islah mosque. (The town now has a second, break-away Muslim congregation.) Overall, Hameeduddin estimates Teaneck’s Muslim population at around 300 families, and his extended family he said numbers “35 or 40” Teaneck residents. Of the four generations of his family who lived in Teaneck, 17 of the individuals are graduates of the town’s high school.

Family of volunteers

“If you look at the [Hameeduddin] family, it’s a model of volunteerism and community service,” says Adam Gussen, a longtime friend and a fellow council member. Hameeduddin’s sister is a very active parent in the public schools, Gussen says.

The 39-year-old Hameeduddin is protective of his family. He married his wife Faiza four years ago. They have a newborn son, Ahsan.

“Teaneck has no foreign policy,” he says, explaining why the international tensions between Jews and Muslims have never become an issue during his time in town government. It is also true, however, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has far less resonance among South Asian Muslims than it does in the Arab world. The mayor’s parents left India for America in the late 1960s.

It has even less resonance in Teaneck.

“There’s such a warmth and receptiveness between the two communities toward each other than I think Teaneck has something special,” says Gussen.

Gussen says he accompanied Hameeduddin to Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, when a special kiddush was being held to support the Israeli army. The synagogue is seen as taking a right-leaning stand towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Rabbi [Steven] Pruzansky introduces Muhammed at the kiddush and has Muhammed address the congregants. That’s the environment where something would come to the surface, and it didn’t,” says Gussen.

Hameeduddin’s campaign literature bears Pruzansky’s endorsement. The rabbi praises him as “dedicated, conscientious, and effective.”

Calls for Shoah memorial

Councilman Eli Y. Katz is a political ally of Gussen. Back in 2008, he helped persuade Hameeduddin to run for the town council. He praised Hameeduddin as “very sensitive to the needs of every single Teaneck resident, whatever religious beliefs they may have,” and pointed to Hameeduddin’s remarks at Teaneck’s recent Yom Hashoah ceremony in favor of creating a memorial to the Shoah in Teaneck.

“Whether you’re Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or atheist, we should never forget,” Hameeduddin said.

Growing up in Teaneck — he was born in the Bronx — Hameeduddin knew plenty of Jews.

“I went to bar mitzvahs at Temple Emeth,” he said. “A lot of my friends were Reform. I didn’t have that many interactions with the Orthodox community” that, by and large, did not send their children to the public schools.

In sixth grade, he became friends with classmate Adam Gussen. It was a friendship that revolved around basketball and other sports, one that continued through college at Rutgers together, and that ended up thrusting Hameeduddin into the part-time, unpaid world of Teaneck politics. (He owns a title agency in Hackensack.) Gussen was elected to the Teaneck town council in 2006, and he recommended Hameeduddin to fill a vacancy on the town’s planning board.

Two years later, Hameeduddin won a seat on the town council. In 2010, he was selected as mayor by the vote of the town council.

On Tuesday, he was re-elected to his council seat, receiving 4,501 votes, the highest of any candidate. The next highest was a newcomer who campaigned jointly with him, Mark Schwartz. Schwartz received 3,254 votes. All told, Hameeduddin was supported by two-thirds of those who turned out to vote.

Teaneck Council tradition, at times honored in the breach, makes the highest vote-getter after each election the obvious choice for mayor, which could mean a second term for Hameeduddin.

Basic day-to-day problems

Hameeduddin has enjoyed his tenure as mayor, a post suited to someone who enjoys dealing with people in their individuality.

“It’s fantastic to meet people all over the town. You get to interact with people on a daily basis, because when somebody has a problem in Teaneck, they go right to the mayor. They don’t want to deal with anybody else,” he says. “It’s nice when you’re able to help people and solve problems and cut through bureacracy.”

He has helped with issues from dogs barking too loudly, to snow removal, to helping people facing foreclosure, to those needing help for elderly parents.

“You name it, they call you. If you can do it in town, I take the responsibility to guide them, and put them in touch with the right agencies.”

For Hameeduddin, it is precisely these sort of backyard problems that nurture the Jewish-Muslim collaboration which made his friendship with Gussen the stuff of a Voice of America documentary.

“People are people. When people come together, it’s the same problems, it’s the same issues.

“There’s more in common with the modern Orthodox [Jews] and the Muslim, I would say, especially when it comes to eating habits, to praying — three times a day versus five times a day — revolving your life around God,” he says.

“How do you have a good family? I need to take care of my parents, I need to take care of my kids, I need to pray five times a day, I need to find food that I can eat. How can I make sure my kids have the upbringing we want, the lifestyle we want for them? We’re not judging anybody else, but we would like to live this way — how do you do that without other people judging you?”

What people bond over

“Women’s issues” is another area of commonality, he says: “women trying to teach their kids how to swim fully clothed; covering up their hair. Private school versus how are you going to support private schools. There are a lot of the same problems in the two communities. All of these are things that people bond and talk over. They realize: ‘oh, you too!’”

When approached this way, the diverse township of Teaneck “is an incubator for understanding.”

For dialogue to work, however, “you have to be open to the experience. If you come in to anything with preconceived notions on any side it never works. There are many preconceived notions on both sides of what somebody thinks, of what somebody actually believes. The preconceived notions that people have because of different things that are put out in the media and in the post-9/11 world, it makes it hard for people to come together.

“I remember some conversation where one person was just uncomfortable and asked the question, ‘don’t you want to hurt me?’

“I said, ‘No. I understand what you’re saying, I know what you’re talking about, but from a Muslim standpoint, Jews are a ‘People of the Book.’ They’re very revered. It’s the God of Abraham.’

“Obviously, you can dwell on the differences, or you talk about what we have in common.”

One of the highlights of his time as mayor was an opportunity to do just that — he went with Gussen to speak to Jewish and Muslim students at Rutgers.

“We talked about how an observant Muslim and an observant Jew were able to get along and be friends.”

Hameeduddin said they spoke about Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism, and what the Muslim community can learn from how the Jewish community has dealt with anti-Semitism “as an ongoing institution in society.”

No preconceived notions

“Now you see Islamophobia, it’s like a cottage industry that’s growing. People are making money off this, selling books, saying bad things about everyone.

“No matter who you are, you’re a closeted Islamist. No matter what you say, you’re a closeted Islamist.

“People try to make up these labels about people. There are good people and bad people, and I think you’ll find good people in all communities. This goes back to not having any preconceived notions about people.”

In his personal observance, Hameeduddin (as he said above) prays fives times daily. “I try to make congregational prayers at least three to five times a week. It’s not always in Teaneck; it’s wherever you’re at. Friday is obligatory.”

Religion became a more central part of Hameeduddin’s life as he entered his 30s. It was around the same time that his childhood friend Gussen similarly became more observant.

“Even though as a child I had a religious upbringing, it wasn’t the central part of my life. It was just something I did. Then as I grew older, I began to dig deeper into the religion. It happened to both of us at the same time.

“When I say more religious — I think sometimes you go through the motions. That I always did. Then there’s a time when you feel with your whole being, from the time you get up, when you eat, when you sleep, that you’re always in the presence of God.

“I can’t really explain. The more you search for God, the more God comes closer to you. It’s an Islamic tradition that when you approach God, God comes closer to you. That’s the thing that happened to me.”

 
 
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.”

 
 

Hoping to take the fifth

Garrett, Gussen face off in Mahwah

Larry YudelsonCover Story
Published: 12 October 2012
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Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5th Dist.), left, and his Democratic challenger, Adam Gussen, the deputy mayor of Teaneck, define their positions during a forum at Congregation Beth Haverim Shir Shalom, sponsored by The Jewish Standard and the JCRC of the Jewish Federation of Northern Jersey.

Rep. Scott Garrett, the Republican representing New Jersey’s 5th 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 5th 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 Congregation 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.

Opening statements

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.”

The United States and Israel

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 5th 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

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 1980 election, but 20 minutes after Reagan finished his inaugural address in January 1981.)

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 position 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.”

The economy

Next, the moderator asked the candidates about the economy, and in particular about the high level of unemployment.

“Jobs are the most important issue facing America today,” Gussen said. “We need to invest in our infrastructure. He noted that “39 percent of the bridges are deficient or functionally obsolete, and 78 percent of our roads are in poor condition” in the 5th District.

“We need tax incentives to invest in the unemployed,” he continued. “We need to disincentivise efforts that move jobs overseas. Energy independence will create jobs here.”

Garrett said the economy is “a dismal record for this administration. This is where the other side of the aisle has left us.”

He spoke of his neighbor “who has been out of work for over a year, with absolutely no prospect of getting a job again,” of the 25 percent of recent college graduates who can’t find work, of the 23 million Americans who are unemployed.

He said the key drag on the economy is “uncertainty” generated by the Dodds-Frank financial reform law and the Obama administration’s health care law.

“We need to restore certainty so people will have optimism in the marketplace,” he said.

Gussen retorted that “Congressman Garrett talks about his neighbor who has been struggling to find work. Congressman Garrett voted against an extension of unemployment benefits that would have helped his neighbor. He voted against funding for job training. He voted to cut Pell grants. He voted to have student loan rates double.

“He talks about certainty in the economy, yet last year he brought the economy to the brink with a hyperpartisan ploy on the debt ceiling. The ability of the American government to default on its obligations shook the world, hurt our credit rating, and brought on an unbelievable amount of uncertainty.

“I ask him to look at his own voting record,” Gussen said.

Redistricting

The next question was about the redistricting that changed the 5th Congressional District from consisting mainly of New Jersey’s northwestern counties to include more of urban Bergen County.

“How do you plan on responding to the increased diversity of the district?” Kirsch asked.

“I always describe the district as the nice part, one of the nicest parts, of New Jersey — the top crescent,” Garrett said. “What has happened is that the district has shifted. It lost some of the towns in Warren County and picked up about 12 towns in Bergen. Now about 50 percent of the towns are in Bergen County.”

Garrett said his response is “to look and see what the needs of the people are.” He sets up mobile constituent offices that go into town halls and libraries to supplement his permanent offices in Bergen County’s Glen Rock and Sussex County’s Newton.

“While the district has changed and some of the demographics have changed, the overarching issues and concerns people have are more or less the same. People have concerns about jobs, about the economy.

“I’ll continue to reach out to them and to fight for them,” he said.

When it was his turn to reply, Gussen began: “I don’t think I heard the Congressman mention diversity once.”

Gussen pointed to Teaneck as a model for diversity; it was the first majority white school district to integrate its schools voluntarily.

“When we look at the 5th Congressional District and look at the new towns that come in, we see a very changed district,” he said. “We see some of the largest population towns are new to the district. There’s much more of Bergen County in the district.

“For 80 years, Bergen County has had a resident member in Congress.”

Gussen said Bergen representation was important for the county to get its needs met “when we have bridges crumbling.”

“Bergen County, with 72 percent of the district, is at a severe disadvantage,” he said. “We already send a dollar to Washington and get 62 cents back in New Jersey. I shudder to think of what we’ll get back for Bergen County.

“Bergen County is larger than six states, than 46 nations. Bergen County needs a resident member of Congress.”

Gussen also reminded the audience about remarks Garrett had made last October, which were reported by the Express-Times of Lehigh Valley, Pa.

Responding to a local Warren County businessman who said the best people to do business with are those in the American Midwest because of their “straightforward” attitude, Garrett reportedly said: “Other ethnicities are not that way. They’ll say yes to you constantly and then you’ll realize they really didn’t mean it.”

“When Garrett was asked to clarify, he said he meant ethnicities from other countries,” Gussen said.

“My concern is that Garrett doesn’t understand diversity or Bergen County,” he concluded.

Garrett retorted that diversity “is not about dividing people, it’s about bringing people together. It’s not about separating people from different communities, it’s about creating one community.

“There’s problems with flooding in Bergen County, and there’s problems in flooding on the Delaware River. There’s bridges that are falling down in Hackensack, and bridges that are falling down in other counties as well. I’m not going to divide; I’m going to work to bring communities together across the board,” he said.

Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security

Up next: “What would you do to fix Medicare and Medicaid?”

Gussen had the first response.

“When we look at the critical safety net, we have an obligation to care for those who can’t care for themselves, and an obligation to meet decades of promises.

“The Ryan-Garrett budget kills Medicare. It replaces what we know as Medicare with a voucher system that costs seniors $6,000 a year. It reopens the prescription drug doughnut hole.

“Garrett has voted to cut $1.4 trillion dollars from Medicaid, putting that burden on the states. The plan to address Medicaid by putting that burden back on the states is a total failure. Seven out of ten nursing home residents receive Medicare. Under Congressman Garrett’s view, seven out of ten nursing home residents are likely to become homeless because the state cannot pick up the tab.

“We look to the budget as giving life to the priorities we have. The Congressman votes for subsidies and givebacks to big oil, and wants to cut $1.4 trillion for Medicaid. Big business and special interests benefit, and the families of New Jersey suffer. That has to end. We need real leadership rather than the hyperpartisanship that has been the hallmark of Congressman Garrett,” Gussen said.

Garrett agreed that “bipartisanship is what is needed. Unfortunately, bipartisanship is not what we’ve seen in Washington as of late.

“There’s no one from either side of the aisle that wants to make any changes in the systems that would change the benefits they receive now. My mom is 90 years old. She’s in good health. She relies on Medicare. We know from personal experience how important these programs are. We want to make sure they’re there for your parents and grandparents, and also for your kids when they’re in retirement.

“If we just stand here and don’t come up with any alternatives, by the year 2023 the Medicare system will basically be out of money. The assets we will have stored up over time will be running out. Benefits will have to be cut,” and not only to future retirees but to people already in the system, Garrett said.

“We have laid out a proposal to try to address the situation. So far we have heard nothing from the other side of the aisle. Last year there was supposed to be a supercommittee if only Republicans would agree to raise taxes. The other side never came up with another alternative. Right now, one out of six people is in Medicaid. Under the Administration’s plan, one out of four will be on Medicaid. That’s unsustainable,” he said.

Gussen replied: “Garrett just said no one makes any changes to Medicare and Medicaid. The 2012 Republican budget voucherizes the system. How he can stand here and say no one wants to make changes amazes me and ought to amaze all of you.”

The next question was about Social Security — but the moderator said the candidates also could continue their discussion of Medicare and Medicaid.

Garrett continued with his earlier point, that increasing numbers of people are on Medicaid. “Why don’t we put everyone on Medicaid? Well, ask your doctor how many new Medicaid patients he has taken recently. Most doctors will say they’re not accepting Medicaid patients any more.

“So it’s well and good to say that it’s good to have a new Medicaid card, but not if there’s not a doctor willing to take you in as a new patient.

“On Social Security — we have to do something to make sure Social Security is sustainable as well. It will use up all the assets around the year 2033. That means that if you’re collecting Social Security in the year 2033, your benefits will have to be cut significantly. The system has to be reformed and fixed,” Garrett said.

Gussen agreed. “Garrett is right. If nothing changes, we will burn through Social Security assets in 2033. So we have 20 years to solve this problem. Unfortunately, if we wait 19 1/2 years the problem will never be solved.

“Garrett is right that life expectancy is higher. We have to make some changes. When we look at the budget for Social Security, there are three things we need to take a close look at.

“We need to look at the retirement age. We need to look at how we address life expectancy for the window of 15, 20 years down the road.

“Today we pay in to Social Security only up to the first $108,000. Everything above that is exempt. Just as we slide the retirement age up, we can slide the taxable level up.

“We have to make tough decisions. We have to look at benefits, we have to look at retirement age, and we have to look at tax exemptions for the highest earners.

“Consistently, Garrett has voted for the benefits of millionaires. When Garrett votes, two things happen: Millionaires and billionaires benefit, and the families of New Jersey suffer.

Garrett retorted that “What I’ve seen over the past four years is not that the millionaires and billionaires are benefiting. I’ve seen that the constituents of this district are suffering. People in this district are unemployed and underemployed.

“A lot of seniors expected to retire on their savings. When the Federal Reserve prints dollars endlessly, and the bank pay .001 percent interest, you’re having a hard time.”

As for changes to Social Security, “the last time, several years ago, when President Bush was in office, he tried to do something on Social Security and was attacked vehemently by the other side of the aisle. The changes we have to make on the economy and Social Security have to start immediately. We have to be able to bring these topics up and not be simply vilified.

Hunger, homelessness, faith-based programs, and proselytizing

“New Jersey is one of the richest states in the country. We are blessed in that regard,” Garrett said. Nonetheless, “we know from personal experience that people in this county are suffering. People are homeless, people are without food.”

Garrett noted a meeting he held three weeks ago with two local women who run a nonprofit agency that helps the homeless and hungry.

“They’re connected with the local community, with the churches. Our church does this as well; we allow homeless people to come into our church.

“We support those initiatives and I have supported those back when I was on the state level — down in Trenton — and now on the federal level to make sure they can get assistance,” he said.

He recalled the women telling him that “at the end of the day, Congressman, as much as these people are looking for food and a handout, they’re looking for a hand up as well. They’re looking for a way to get out of the situation they’re in so they can support themselves. People who never thought they would have problems are homeless and hungry for the first time.”

“That’s where I was able to explain to them some of the things we were doing in Washington to get the economy growing again,” Garret concluded.

Gussen attacked Garrett’s voting record.

“When we talk about food security, one of the most fundamental programs is WIC. It stands for Women Infants and Children. Congressman Garrett has repeatedly voted to defund WIC.

“In the past six years, 200,000 children’s lives have been saved by WIC. Congressman Garrett will take a far-right position to defend the life of a child when it’s unborn. When it’s born, Congressman Garrett doesn’t seem concerned about that child’s ability to eat,” he said.

“When he talks about the church reaching out, assistance can’t just be in a church or a synagogue. There’s not enough resources there.

“When there was a problem of coercive proselytizing in the Air Force Academy, Garrett signed a letter saying that evangelicizing was part of his religion, that it was part of religious freedom — even though it was coercive for Jewish cadets to sit through.

Gussen said he was concerned that if the government directs assistance through faith-based organizations, “coercive proselytizing will be become the norm across all of our society, not just in the Air Force Academy.

“To listen to Congressman Garrett talk about people getting a hand up, even when he’s cut primary and secondary education and college funding, when he’s voted against everything that enables people to help themselves — he’s being disingenuous. He says one thing here, and something else on the floor of the House.”

Gussen said he believed in “supporting investments in our communities,” because “government can be a partner for positive change. Government is not the biggest problem.”

“Government is not the biggest problem,” Garrett agreed, “but some of the government’s policies of the past four years have been the problem.

“The number of people on food stamps have gone up. People cannot afford food because they do not have jobs. In the years after World War II, in 1948 to 2008, in that entire span of decade upon decade, we had 38 months in that entire period where unemployment was above 8 percent. Since then we have had 33 months.

“We can create a better situation, we can provide for a better situation, but we can do it only by a change of policy out of Washington,” he said.

Collective bargaining

The next question concerned the role of collective bargaining in the public and private sectors.

“My wife’s a teacher, a member of the NEA,” Gussen said. “I’m also deputy mayor of Teaneck, where 375 employees are part of nine different bargaining units. So I understand the other side as well.

“There’s no question we need to create an economy where people’s jobs are safe, safe from abuse, from harassment, from retaliations for whistle blowing, from unsafe labor.

“We live in a world where in this county the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. If you do some math and think about the fact, that if they work two full-time minimum wage jobs, I challenge you to find a place where that family can live, and feed themselves, and put clothing on their children’s backs, while working 80 hours a week.

“Congressman Garrett has pursued policies, year after year, term after term, of allowing big business to move good paying jobs overseas to China.

“Congressman Garrett will every time choose big business and millionaires and billionaires over the families of New Jersey. Every time Congressman Garrett votes, big business and special interests benefit and the families of New Jersey suffer,” Gussen said.

Garrett began his reply with his own disclosure: “My daughter is a teacher.”

“With regard to collective bargaining, I agree we should have the right to collective bargaining. One of my heartfelt issues is the Constitution. I believe in the right of association, of people to join together and defend their rights. Collective bargaining is part of it,” he said.

But: “You want to have a situation where the economy is actually growing. I don’t want to be in a union and bargaining when the economy is in the doldrums.

“What we need to do on these things it to get the economy growing again. You do that in a bipartisan manner. I’ve worked with people like Maxine Waters, with Barney Frank. The president of the United States called me up and invited me to his office to pass the jobs bill.”

Gussen’s rejoinder was brief.

“Garrett has taken millions of dollars from the ten largest banks when he sits on the Congressional banking committee. I question why he votes the way he does. You should as well.”

Closing statements

The moderator then asked the candidates for their closing statements.

Garrett’s: “I have always stood for the proposition that the next generation, our kids, our grandkids, will do even better than our generation. This has been the history of country. I believe we can do that again.

“We’re at a turning point because of the policies that have come out of Washington these past four years. We’ve seen that Washington has basically stopped listening to us. They want to have more spending. They want to saddle everyone with additional debt. $16 trillion of additional debts.

“Getting out of this mess is not going to be easy. Just as families have to live within their means, so does the government in Washington as well.

“I look forward to going back to Washington as your representative to continue to listen to you, and most of all to make sure when we look forward to our next generation, we can see our kids, and our grandchildren, grow up in a country as strong and as dynamic as the country we grew up in,” he concluded.

Gussen finished by asking his listeners “to decide whose vision for the families of New Jersey and the values of your country better represents your own.

“Congressman Garrett was an original co-sponsor of House Bill 3, to redefine rape as ‘forcible rape.’ Mr. Congressman, there is no legitimate rape.

Garrett has voted repeatedly against the Violence against Women act.

“He voted to appeal the Affordable Care Act 33 times, wasting millions of dollars, even though he knows the vote could never pass the Senate. The Affordable Care Act which provides for removing all lifetime limits on health care, gets rid of the exclusion of pre-existing conditions.

“In the last 10 years, Congressman Garrett has been a sponsor of 116 bills. Two of those bills have passed; both of those were to rename post offices.

“I ask you to look at the record Congressman Garrett brings to the table. Look at what he supported. He’s supported biblical creationism being taught in our science classes. While we’re in a 21st economy that needs engineers and critical thinkers, Congressman Garrett wants biblical creation taught as though it were science. There are some major differences in his vision of America and mine.

“Scott Garrett votes for big business and special interests and millionaires and billionaires while the families of New Jersey suffer. I’ll always put families of New Jersey first,” Gussen concluded.

 
 

Election day 2012 and after

Gussen and Boteach reflect on their failed Congressional bids

Larry YudelsonLocal
Published: 09 November 2012

In the end, gerrymandering was destiny.

Democrat Adam Gussen and Republican Rabbi Shmuley Boteach entered their congressional races — in the fifth and ninth districts respectively — knowing that the odds, as measured by partisan voting registration, were against them.

On Tuesday, the expected happened. Rep. Scott Garrett (R) and Rep. William Pascrell (D) were reelected to the House of Representatives, as were the overwhelming number of incumbents nationwide. (In the 2010 congressional races, 85 percent of incumbents were returned to office.)

Both challengers are Orthodox Jews — a biographical detail that affected the campaign “not at all,” Gussen said. “Other than finding it hard to come up with kosher food in Warren and Sussex County, I don’t think it played a plus or minus in the campaign.”

Gussen termed his loss “profoundly disappointing,” although the campaign was “a tremendously rewarding experience.”

The election gave him “a deep respect for our democratic process,” he said. “And I think I’ve learned that there’s so many values and ideas that cut across all lines of geography or socioeconomic barriers that we all share in common, whether there’s a D next to our name or an R. We all want what’s best for our families and we want to feel safe and secure in what tomorrow brings.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Boteach said he was “joyous. We achieved most of our goals. We showed a rabbi can run as a real candidate. When you have a yarmulke and beard and nine kids following along on the campaign trail, you can be a candidate.”

Boteach said he had rejected political experts’ advice to drop his title during the election, warning that it would marginalize him.

“I was proudly Jewish. I went as ‘Rabbi Shmuley,’ not ‘Shmuley,’” he said.

Boteach said the campaign was one of the great experiences of his life — and an outgrowth of his desire to spread Jewish values “to bring healing in America.” Having done that in books and television and radio, “I wanted to do it in politics. That’s one of the places that’s suffering the most today. If you want to fix the political arena, you need to jump into the political arena.”

Boteach said he was pleased to have gotten his message out, drawing more than ten thousand emails from across the country.

“What people will see and remember from my campaign,” he said, is his talk about values other than the issues of abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. Those issues had been a focus of the Republican Party — and those issues cost the party dearly in this election.

“I spoke about making marital counseling tax deductible, a national year of service after high school, recreating an America sabbath by giving employers incentives to give their workers off on Sunday to have time with their family. I spoke about the need for parents to have a real educational choice. And I defended Israel with all my heart and all my soul,” he said.

In the course of the campaign, he met and fell in love with the people of the district. “This is one of the most amazing districts,” he said. “One of the most diverse in America. I think I received the respect of mutual affection among the Arabs of Paterson, by showing them respect. I knew they would never vote for me. They are Pascrell’s base. I was told by all the campaign professionals around me that you need to campaign around people who will vote for you.”

But campaigning in Paterson gave him warm encounters with Arabs who were friendly even as they argued about Israel policy. Some spoke to him in Hebrew.

So what’s next for the candidates?

Gussen is taking a couple of days off to relax with his family. And then on Monday morning he will return to his job at a mortgage company, after having taken a few months off to devote entirely to the campaign. “I need to refocus on the most important things in life and that’s my family,” he said.

Boteach said he too has to get back to work, picking up commitments that had been pushed aside by the campaign: lectures, recording an audiobook, and promoting his new book, “The Fed-Up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.”

He won’t rule out a return to politics — particularly if Pascrell fails to “invest himself fully in helping the people I’ve come to love” or again takes actions about Israel to which Boteach objects.

Would he consider changing his role from “America’s rabbi” — as his website bills him — to the Ninth District’s rabbi?

“I’ve been thinking about that a lot,” he said.

During the campaign, he forged relationships with the Arab and Korean communities. He wants to grow those relationships. He renewed his relationship with the African American community and he wants to strengthen that too.

“Here in the city of Englewood we have an unforgivable divide between the large Jewish community that is heavily Orthodox and the large African American community, and no one has done enough to bridge the divide. That’s something I’d like to focus on.”

 
 

Parsing the Jewish vote

Larry YudelsonLocal | World
Published: 16 November 2012

So, nu? Did the Jews vote for Obama? What about the Orthodox?

And did having Orthodox Jewish candidates as challengers in the local fifth and ninth congressional districts draw any additional votes?

Those interested in crunching Jewish numbers in the wake of last week’s elections have different ways to go about it.

There are general exit polls, some of which break down results by religion. There were two election-night polls commissioned by Jewish groups — the Republican Jewish Coalition on the right and J-Street on the left. And there is the information that can be gleaned by poring over election district-level voting results.

The top-line number: 70 percent of Jewish voters voted to re-elect President Barack Obama, while 30 percent voted for Mitt Romney. That is according to the J-Street poll of 800 voters. A CNN exit poll showed a similar 69 percent voting for Obama.

The RJC survey of 1,000 voters found 61 percent voting for Obama, 32 percent for Romney, 1 percent for someone else, and 6 percent would not say.

The RJC touted its figures as showing a multiyear trend in increasing Republican voting among Jews.

Democrats said the decline — from 74 or 78 percent support in 2008 (the estimated actual total and the exit poll results respectively) — reflected an across-the-board lessening of enthusiasm for Obama in the wake of the tough economy, rather than the success of Republican efforts to cast the president as someone who had thrown Israel “under the bus,” in Romney’s phrase.

Closer to home, an analysis by the Orthodox Union of voting precincts across the country with high concentrations of Orthodox voters saw a drop in Democratic support in the most densely Jewish neighborhoods of Teaneck.

Obama received 47 percent of the votes in these election districts — the 11th, 12th, and 18th — down from 51 percent in 2008, and from the 52 percent that Sen. John Kerry received in his failed race against President George W. Bush in 2004.

In 2000, however, these same Teaneck precincts voted 81 percent for the Democratic ticket.

Why?

“Joe Lieberman,” said Nathan Diament, head of the OU’s Washington office, referring to the Orthodox Jewish senator who was the Democrat’s vice presidential nominee that year.

According to the J-Street survey, Obama received 59 percent of the Orthodox vote, as opposed to 71 percent of the non-Orthodox vote.

According to the RJC survey, Obama received 48 percent of the Orthodox vote, with Romney receiving 44 percent. Reform Jews, by contrast, gave 68 percent to Obama and 26 percent to Romney.

Did the Orthodox vote help the local congressional challengers?

Teaneck’s deputy mayor, Adam Gussen, clearly benefited from support in his community. In the three precincts highlighted by the OU, Gussen, a Democrat, received more than 70 percent of the vote, even as the head of the Democratic slate, Obama, pulled no more than 41 percent.

In the eastern “country club” section of Teaneck, however, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach proved slightly less popular than the top of his Republican slate, polling 31 percent of the 19th and 20th election districts, compared to Romney’s 33 percent.

In his hometown of Englewood, Boteach won a majority only in two districts: one and two, both in the city’s second ward. Even there, however, he was slightly less popular than Romney.

Another Democrat who polled well in Orthodox Teaneck — as well as in Englewood — was Sen. Robert Menendez. He received two-thirds of the vote in the OU’s Teaneck precincts — nearly double Obama’s total (although less than Gussen’s). In the two Englewood districts Boteach won, Menendez received 59 percent of the votes for Senate; Obama received only 40 percent.

Menendez has been strongly supported by pro-Israel activists; donors affiliated with NORPAC gave more than $70,000 to the Menendez campaign, making the pro-Israel group one of the senator’s leading sources of funds.

Throughout Bergen County, Obama’s support ranged from 80 percent in Hackensack to 26 percent in Franklin Lakes. Preliminary returns, excluding absentee and provisional ballots, show Obama receiving 55 percent of the county’s vote.

Writing in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, the columnist Shmuel Rosner observed that the J-Street poll showed that almost half of the Orthodox Jews who voted for Obama considered voting for Romney, half of those considering a Romney vote “seriously.” Non-Orthodox Obama voters were far less likely to have considered voting for Romney.

Rosner wondered about what that meant.

“A success for Obama surrogates? A failure of Romney surrogates? Is this group ready to move to the conservative column and just needs another push — or maybe if it didn’t move now, not even with Obama at the helm, to vote for the Republican candidate, it isn’t likely to move in the foreseeable future,” he wrote.

Rosner cautioned that observers should not get so caught up in crunching the numbers that they lose track of the bigger picture.

“One has to remember that we are talking here about 10 percent or so of the 2 percent Jewish vote. That is, 0.2 percent of the vote. A move of 20 percent of these voters to the conservative column means a shift of 0.04 percent of the vote (most of it in places like New York and New Jersey). So, if I were a Democratic operative, I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over such a theoretic possibility,” he wrote.

 
 
 
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