By Erin Delmore
With eight months to go until Election Day, five of New Jersey’s gubernatorial candidates staked out their ground at a business forum in New Brunswick. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, State Sen. Ray Lesniak, Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli and former Ambassador Phil Murphy test-ran their campaign messages.
“So I went back to the governor’s office and I said, ‘You need to do two things in order to keep businesses here,'” Guadagno said.
Guadagno, breaking away from her boss, Gov. Chris Christie: “We don’t need to renovate the State House for $300 million when people are going to bed every night in New Jersey hungry. We need to spend our money wisely. One of the ways we’ll do that is we’ll make sure we hire an independently-elected attorney general.”
Touting her record: “When I came into office 117,000 jobs left the state of New Jersey, 10 percent unemployment almost. Today, 281,000 jobs created in the state of New Jersey. Today, unemployment is nearly half of what it was before.”
Wisniewski on his work improving infrastructure, strengthening the middle class and putting the pension fund back in the black: “We have a moral obligation to fund those pensions. We have a legal obligation to fund those pensions and as governor I would do that.”
Lesniak — 34 years in office — told the crowd he has a “proven record of getting things done.”
“I know from my experience in Elizabeth and other school districts that there are hundreds of millions of dollars that go out the window that never get into the classroom,” he said.
Ciattarelli won points from the event’s hosts.
“One of the areas that we really need to get our hands around is the escalating state costs — the pension, the entitlements that Jack Ciatterelli talked about. I really liked what he had to say in terms of a bold reform,” said NAIOP NJ CEO Michael McGuinness.
The business owner and publisher said he’s for streamlining state government and overhauling the tax code. He said his background makes him uniquely prepared to do it.
“I think it’s what makes me unique — an MBA, CPA, an entrepreneur and a business owner,” he said.
The forum’s anchor — Democratic front-runner Murphy — kicked off with a mea culpa.
“I’m from Boston. Please don’t hold it against me. No questions on professional sports teams, please,” he said.
The former Goldman Sachs exec and finance chair for the national Democratic Party entered the race as a relative outsider then, boosted ad buys with his own cash and locked up endorsements up and down I-95.
“This state is desperate for adult leadership. Leadership that has skills explicitly applicable to the moment in time that we find ourselves which is getting the economy going and growing again. So I’m running proudly as the outsider,” Murphy said.
A milestone for the Republican front-runner, Guadagno, this week: Her campaign announced it’s raked in the $430,000 needed to qualify for public financing, which could enable her to raise up to $6.4 million during the primary.
She’s only the second candidate looking to qualify for public funds who’s hit the mark so far. Democrat Jim Johnson said he qualified in January.