By Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor
Polite applause — that’s how the audience at this year’s New Jersey Black Issues Convention received Sen. Barbara Buono’s message. She gave her now-familiar stump speech — about how Gov. Chris Christie’s failed to stimulate the economy and create more jobs — and talked about her modest upbringing by immigrant parents.
“We have 400,000 out of work, the highest unemployment in the region for the last four years. We lag the nation in economic and job growth when we should be leading the nation,” Buono said. “The unemployment rate for people of color is double the state average. That’s not acceptable.”
This is among many issues the program committee chair of this event, Jerome Harris, says matter to this audience.
“The issues that are important to them in terms of employment, public safety, housing, education were issues that Sen. Buono addressed,” said Harris.
Buono believes her economic plan will benefit the middle class and small businesses. In the past she has expressed support for set-aside programs that could help minority and women business owners, which is welcome news to Hosea Johnson from the African-American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.
“She has indicated some desire, some interest in that particular area. Anything that she would do in that area, I think, would be extremely beneficial towards the growth and development of the black business community,” said Johnson.
But Johnson says the governor has also reached out to black business owners.
“I do understand and respect that many people support him because of the fact that he has made it a point of reaching out, developing those relationships and partnerships with various organizations and churches. We haven’t seen that in past with many of our Republican politicians. So I think that’s quite a change,” said Johnson.
This event is one of many examples showing Buono is reaching out to minorities and other groups who are typically the base of the Democratic Party. But with a host of black leaders endorsing Republican Gov. Christie, Buono knows she can’t take any vote for granted.
“There are a number of individuals who endorsed the governor, but I think if look at the range of issues in terms of education, health care, employment, public safety, many, many African-Americans will find it difficult to align their particular policy interests with those of the governor,” Harris said.
A recent Quinnipiac poll gives Buono 55 percent of the black vote. Christie earned 36 percent. Compare that to the 9 percent Christie got when he faced Jon Corzine in 2009 and it’s obvious the governor’s gaining ground. Buono’s fighting for endorsements among minority leaders.
Christie was also invited to this event but organizers say he declined.