The race among Democrats to fill the vacant seat left by the death of Sen. Frank Lautenberg has begun. Congressman Frank Pallone is one of four Democrats who have announced they will be running in the primary and special election for the seat. Pallone said he believes public debates are important so New Jersey voters can learn about the candidates and make an informed decision. He told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he has a record of taking action on issues that affect residents and believes he’s a natural successor to the late Lautenberg.
Pallone said the candidates — which include himself, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Congressman Rush Holt — could debate once a week. “I think it’s very important to have debates because I don’t want this to just be 30-second commercials and sound bites,” Pallone said. “This is a Democratic primary. I think that the voters really need to hear from us and hear from us directly with questions and the ability to ask questions because it should be based on issues and who’s gonna do the best job.”
According to Pallone, his voting record isn’t the only information voters could consider. He said he’s been a person of action while in office. “I’ve been a champion on the environment, a champion on health care reform and if you look at my record, it’s a record of accomplishments and getting things done in priorities that I think are important to New Jersey residents,” he said. He cited health care reform as an example, saying the state had many uninsured individuals as well as people who were being discriminated against because of preexisting conditions.
“I was the drafter of the health care reform legislation and now it’s kicking in and making a difference in people’s lives. That’s an example where I got something done that’s important to the people,” Pallone said. “And the same is true on a number of environmental issues as well where I’ve been a champion.”
Booker’s close relationship with Gov. Chris Christie isn’t an advantage in the race for the Senate seat, according to Pallone. “Gov. Christie continues to make cuts so that a place like Newark has less money coming in for police and fire and for education. And that’s true throughout the state. So what has been accomplished by Mayor Booker’s cozy relationship with the governor? I mean he should be trying to get him to pass a minimum wage bill, marriage equality. I don’t see any of those things happening,” Pallone said. “You know we all have to work with Republicans, but it has to be in a way that actually accomplishes something for the American people. I don’t see that with Mayor Booker and his cozy relationship with Gov. Christie.”
Pallone said he is a logical choice to succeed Lautenberg in the Senate. He said he and Lautenberg worked together on a number of issues and many times when Lautenberg introduced measures in the Senate, Pallone would introduce them in the House. Pallone said that happened with many pieces of environmental legislation.
“I believe that in the same way that Sen. Lautenberg got things done and reached across the aisle to Republicans who could work with us, I’ve done the same thing and will continue to do the same thing,” Pallone said. “And that’s what I think should be the basis of why you vote for me — not just my voting record, but the way I accomplish things that mean things in terms of people’s lives.”
When asked if he believes having Sheila Oliver in the race will help him get the nomination, Pallone said he respects Oliver and considers her a friend. “She’s a woman of principle. She stands up many times on many issues but particularly issues that affect women. So I welcome her to the race,” he said.
Pallone said he hopes voters carefully consider their options. “This is going to be decided on who gets things done and I think everyone should look at all four of us in making that decision,” he said.