By David Cruz
It was the kickoff of New Jersey’s Working Families United Raise the Wage Campaign, a push to boost the minimum wage to $8.25 from the current $7.25, a question that is on the ballot in November because Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the minimum wage bill. The elected officials wanted to talk about voter turnout for the referendum, but the press questions were about whether the Democrats here were going to be able to get their political house in order long enough to be successful in the fall.
“Referencing our ‘party’ has had difficulty. I think that one thing everyone can agree upon is that we believe in a core set of values,” said Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.
But the physical — if not necessarily philosophical — distance between Mayor Cory Booker and Speaker Oliver, who are now opponents in the August Senate primary, was obvious to most observers; and Barbara Buono, the party’s top of the ticket candidate, was relegated to near sidebar status, although she was an articulate advocate in support of the referendum.
“At $7.25 an hour, every single penny is put toward putting a roof over your head and food on the table, keeping the lights on and the heat on in the winter,” Buono said.
Christie says the bill is a jobs killer and would hurt New Jersey’s small businesses, but Democrats say a raise in the minimum wage affects 400,000 New Jersey workers, and tying the new minimum wage to the cost of living will allow for the wage to keep pace with the rising cost of everything.
“What I’m dealing with in Newark is so many people stuck in minimum wage jobs without benefits and then they’re forced, because they have no choices, they always come up with more month at the end of their money than money at the end of their month,” Booker said.
But when asked about whether he’d taken up the matter in his many conversations with Christie, Booker said that wasn’t the point.
“Again, the press conference is about the minimum wage, not my relationship with the governor. … I have a feeling that people are gonna try to continue to draw us into politics,” Booker said.
Booker, Buono and Oliver went to their separate ends of the room after the abbreviated press conference, Booker getting the most media attention, Buono a little less so and Oliver content to chat with just plain folks, a true microcosm of where New Jersey’s Democratic Party finds itself today — in the same room, perhaps, but not necessarily on the same page.
Democrats believe this issue could be a winner for them, but in an increasingly convoluted election season, the challenge remains getting voters to focus.