By Dari Kotzker
It was a warm welcome for Gov. Chris Christie as he made his way down Maple Avenue in South Plainfield. But he shared the spotlight today with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono, who was also met with cheers.
Some locals say the parade is the official kickoff to the campaign season.
This year, the parade’s theme is Jersey Strong, and this annual festivity has been going strong for 56 years. So what does Jersey Strong mean to both gubernatorial candidates?
“For New Jersey, it’s what we’ve all gone through in the last 10 months, after Hurricane Sandy and the way everyboy pulled together whether your community was directly affected or whether you had friends in communities that were directly affected, everybody pitched in and helped,” Christie said.
“New Jersey has had a four-year streak of the highest employment in the region and the lowest job creation. We can be resilient, we will be resilient and we will work our way out of this,” Buono said.
The organizer of the parade told me that South Plainfield has a lot of independent voters, so with so many Republicans and Democrats who are running for office, could that sway people’s votes?
“It certainly wouldn’t help to sway the vote, but it’s good to see that they support a local community,” said South Plainfield resident Angela McFarlane.
And most people seem to be sticking with their candidate, despite getting to see both in-person.
“Not mine, because I know who I’m in favor of — the governor,” said Bob Ackerman of South Plainfield.
“My husband and I are die hard Democrats so it’s nice to see her them in the parade, to do so well and get a warm response from the crowd,” said Michelle Cerami.
Christie says it’s a tradition for candidates to come together for this parade.
“Four years ago it was me and Gov. Corzine, we were in this parade together. It’s the biggest and best Labor Day parade in the state, so this is the palace to be. So it doesn’t matter to me. I rode behind Gov. Corzine four years ago, and it’s the same kind of thing,” Christie said.
And Buono says Christie being there was a non-factor.
“I’m really not focused on that, I’m focused on why we’re here today. We’re here to celebrate workers of New Jersey. We have a vast workforce here that is talented, that is one of the hardest working in the country and I think we have a lot to celebrate here,” said Buono.
Senate candidate Cory Booker and Congressman Frank Pallone were among the lawmakers who came out to support Buono. But they say their main focus is to recognize workers.
“We’re actually out here, not as primarily campaigning, even though you see a heck of a lot of signs behind me. Despite the resplendent display of green and blue, the reality is also we’re here to recognize labor and I’m glad to see that the governor and other people are out here to do the same,” Booker said.
“The main thing is we all want to show support for unions and for organized labor and for the idea that labor is important, that people should be paid a good wage, a good salary with good benefits. And that that’s an important part of growing the economy,” Pallone said. “I support Mayor Booker for Senate and also obviously I’m here for Barbara Buono for governor and all our Democratic legislative candidates as well.”
Buono and Booker continued the Labor Day festivities in Rutherford and New Brunswick. As for Christie, this was his only stop.