Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono raised some eyebrows when she named Milly Silva as her running mate since Silva has never held public office. Silva sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider to discuss her candidacy. She said her experience working for the Service Employees International Union has prepared her to take on the role of lieutenant governor for the state.
“When I think about my work and my career, so much of it has been about advocating and speaking on behalf of working class and middle class people that in a lot of ways I see it as a continuation of the work that I do,” Silva said.
She said she did not seek out the position or tell others she had political ambitions. “I was doing my work of advocating on behalf of health care workers across the state and continuing to do the work of negotiating on behalf of those caregivers. And so when Sen. Barbara Buono contacted me and asked me to run, I was so honored,” Silva said.
Silva said she was surprised by the offer, but took it seriously from the start. “I know that she’s a serious woman and that she speaks with courage and conviction and so this is someone who if she asked me this question and asked me to run with her, it wasn’t a joke. It really was an opportunity for us to do something together,” she said.
When asked if she believes she’s qualified to serve as governor of New Jersey should Buono be unable, Silva said she absolutely is. “When Barbara asked me to run, one of the things that she said to me is she likes the fact that I offered a different perspective. I am someone who has advocated on behalf of working class and middle class people for my entire career. I represent over 8,000 people across the state,” she said. “I’m also someone who has to negotiate multimillion dollar contracts with the private sector health care industry across the state.”
Hudson County Republican Chairman Jose Arango likened Buono’s pick of Silva to him picking his secretary, saying she doesn’t have the necessary experience. He has been criticized for his comments and Silva said she did have a problem with his response.
“I found his comment to be offensive and to be sexist. Although I have to say, if I were a secretary, I think that that is an honorable job and certainly a position that requires a skill set,” Silva said.
When asked if she would have a problem with a new union member challenging her for the leadership position she currently holds, Silva said, “I think that the qualifications are about whether or not you have the ability to listen to the constituents that you represent, understand what the issues are, bring people to the table to be able to then identify solutions to whatever their conditions are.” She added she would consider the candidate’s experience prior to joining the union before passing judgement.
Silva said she believes her work has prepared her for some of the responsibilities of lieutenant governor. “In my position, I have many years of working on behalf of working people. I do representation work, I negotiate multimillion dollar contracts with the private sector. I need to have the skill set that is about bringing people together to hear each of their interests and to figure out what’s the best way where we can compromise and come up with the solutions that are going to address their issues,” she said.
Former SEIU 1199 member Odette Machado has filed a lawsuit claiming that Silva defeated her in a union election and then fired her the next day and tried to deny her severance pay. Silva said, “I’m not gonna comment on what is an internal personnel matter between the union and a former employee. Ms. Machado is a former employee of 1199 SEIU and she was terminated from the organization.”
Many voters are concerned about taxes in the state, which Silva said haven’t been helped by the current governor. “Under Gov. Christie’s administration, homeowners have seen their property taxes increase as much as 20 percent. There have been tax subsidies that have been given to corporations while those corporations have not been held accountable to make sure that they’re creating jobs here and keeping jobs here in the state of New Jersey,” Silva said. “A Gov. Buono with a Lieutenant Gov. Milly Silva will have an administration where we are going to say to the corporations, if you’re going to have a subsidy, we need to make sure that you’re creating jobs here in New Jersey. We’re going to target resources towards small business operators, towards women-owned businesses and minority-owned businesses as well.”
Christie has made pension and benefit reform issues of his administration, which has angered some involved in organized labor. Silva said there needs to be a balance between the state budget and pensions and benefits offered. “We’re making sure that we’re allocating resources where they need to be. At the same time you need to make sure that the people who are doing the work get a fair shake. And it does mean figuring out how you can make sure people are able to retire with dignity and that is an issue of pension reform,” she said.
Silva said she’s glad she accepted Buono’s offer to run for lieutenant governor because it gives her and Buono the opportunity to bring middle class families to the forefront of conversations about state government and growing New Jersey.
“Gov. Christie has forgotten the middle class. We have 400,000 people who are without work today. Homeowners have seen their property taxes increase by 20 percent. That is an administration that has forgotten that the middle class really is the foundation for a stronger New Jersey,” Silva said. “Sen. Buono and myself will make sure that we put the middle class first.”