POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Gubernatorial candidates face off in hard-hitting debate

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

It was hard hitting. It was sharp. It was pointed.

Before it started, the media were led on stage for a photo opportunity. A packed house filled Prudential Hall at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Anchors from the ABC affiliates were in place. From the outset, the candidates started firing barbs at one another.

“This is a great state that has been ravaged under the Christie-Guadagno administration over the past eight years and the middle class has paid the biggest price,” said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy.

“The inconvenient truth for Phil is that Chris Christie is not on the ballot in November. I am,” said Republican gubernatorial candidate Kim Guadagno.

Guadagno wanted to talk about property taxes and her plan to cap them. She said Murphy has no plan. He said his plan is to beef up school funding at the state level so property taxpayers get a break. He said the Christie administration underfunded schools by $9 billion. Guadagno jumped on that.

“Phil Murphy has no plan for lowering property taxes. Phil Murphy has said in the past that in order to lower property taxes people in New Jersey need to make more money. Or Phil Murphy has said that in order to lower property taxes we need to fully fund the school funding formula, which in his own words tonight is $9 billion. Well, I suggest to the listeners out there tonight, or to the people in this room, to look to their right and look to their left because that $9 billion is coming from you if Phil Murphy is elected governor,” said Guadagno.

“If I may, the $9 billion, choices have been made by Gov. Christie and the lieutenant governor every step of the way and they’ve chosen to give out tax incentives to large corporations in our state for over $8 billion. They’ve chosen to give the wealthiest among us tax breaks. All of that has come at the expense of the middle class,” he said.

On pensions, both pledged to honor current obligations, with Murphy the more adamant.

“We have a very, very credible plan to fund the pensions over the next several years as rapidly as possible. At least as fast, I hope a lot faster than this administration has been funding them,” said Murphy.

“What he did say is he would fund those as soon as he could. Quite frankly, Phil, that sounds like the Chris Christie plan,” said Guadagno.

“This is an administration which has vilified public sector employees. Educators should be up on a pedestal and they’ve been vilified for almost eight years, so this newfound compassion, I’d ask the lieutenant governor, where have you been?” said Murphy.

Their positions on guns reflected their two parties.

“We need greater penalties. We need to enforce the law because most of the gun crimes are done with handguns. We need to have better mental health background checks. And in fact, in case of the Nevada shooting, I would recommend the death penalty,” said Guadagno.

“You just heard from someone who got a rating of ‘A’ from the NRA. I’m proud, for the first time in my life, to be given an ‘F’ by the NRA,” rebutted Murphy.

“If guns are so bad, why has Goldman Sachs invested in gun manufacturers over the years and how much has he profited by that investment?” asked Guadagno.

“I think if I had your track record and Gov. Christie’s track record, I’d try to change the subject as well,” said Murphy.

Monday, Murphy reportedly canceled a fundraiser he had scheduled with disgraced Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

“I didn’t ask for and I didn’t get one dime from this guy. What he’s done is completely outrageous and heinous,” said Murphy.

“I want to call Phil Murphy a coward. Phil Murphy didn’t start to talk about Harvey Weinstein until after my campaign today listed the tens of thousands of dollars that he raised as a part of his position as a finance chair for the DNC,” said Guadagno.

Guadagno’s main theme was affordability and Murphy’s was how he plans to modernize New Jersey.

Afterward each candidate faced the media for five minutes.

When asked how she thought she did, Guadagno said, “I loved every single second of it.”

Murphy said, “Listen, debates are not easy. I think we got our message out. We held our own.”

Both candidates showed a command of the issues. They both had good energy. Neither committed an obvious gaffe. Pick the one you like.