Critics of congressional redistricting had complained that the redrawn map would strengthen the hold of incumbents. Some polls, however, indicate that things are a lot closer than many expected in New Jersey’s fifth district where veteran Republican Scott Garrett is being challenged by the Democratic Deputy Mayor of Teaneck — Adam Gussen. He tells NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that legislative redistricting has not made the fifth district a conclusive win for the GOP.
Gussen says the redistricting infused the predominantly Republican district with traditionally Democratic towns. “What happened in the redistricting was the towns of Teaneck, Hackensack, Lodi, Fairlawn, Maywood and Bogota now move into the fifth district from the ninth… core, strong Democratic towns with high populations.”
Redistricting caused Democratic Congressman Steve Rothman to leave the fifth so that he could run against incumbent Bill Pascrell in the newly-drawn ninth. Rothman lost out to Pascrell in a highly contentious June primary race. Many saw Rothman’s move to the ninth as a recognition that the Republican hold on the fifth would be too much for a Democrat to overcome. Gussen says he had an opportunity to speak with Rothman about the reason for his move.
“I think his public comments made it clear that he felt an attachment and emotional investment and a commitment to the people of the ninth district of which about 60-65 percent stayed in the ninth. So instead of running in the fifth, he wanted to stay committed to the people he had been representing for the last 16 years,” explained Gussen.
The new fifth covers an expansive area that spreads from the Hudson to the Delaware, with the more westerly part of the district known to be Republican strongholds. But Gussen isn’t deterred as he looks at the district as a whole to crunch the numbers. He sees the 2008 presidential election as a benchmark, saying “McCain wins Sussex County by about 11,000 votes and McCain wins Warren County by about 8,500 votes giving us substantial Republican advantage in Warren and Sussex County.” But the redistricting, he says, counters the Republican impact of those counties. “Now we look at the new towns in the district and we see that Obama wins Hackensack by 9,500 votes, Obama wins Teaneck by 9,000 votes. So we have two towns that balance out all of Warren and Sussex counties.”
Gussen describes himself as a moderate Democrat. But according to him, he’s part of a minority of politicians. He says that in the last 20 years, politicians on both sides have moved to the “fringes of the ideological edge.”
“I think Congressman Garrett represents that on the right,” said Gussen. “I think other politicians on the Democratic side race to the liberal side. We saw in the Rothman-Pascrell primary, we saw them debating over who was the most liberal progressive.”
The pursuit of ideological purity, he says, has come at the expense of compromise which he observes has become a dirty word in politics.
“Compromise meant you were selling out. Compromise meant you were giving up on a core value. Compromise meant that you were taking the easy path. Well, I know from the real world that compromise is the cornerstone of leadership. It’s bringing people together with disparate ideas, disparate needs and disparate perspectives.”