By Emily Hamilton | For AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY — In the New Jersey State Senate District 2 Debate at Stockton University on Thursday, Oct. 19, Atlantic County Commissioner Caren Fitzpatrick accused incumbent Sen, Vince Polistina of “hateful” language toward immigrants while he charged that his comments were mischaracterized.
Polistina and Fitzpatrick bumped heads on a variety of important issues in a head-on debate that emphasized their contrasting motives.
Polistina and Fitzpatrick debate was the first of two at the Stockton’s Fannie Lou Hamer Room on Oct. 19. Republican assembly incumbents Don Guardian and Claire Swift went head-to-head with Democratic newcomers Lisa Bender and Alphonso Harrell on similar issues addressed in the Assembly debate.
Fitzpatrick slammed Polistina for comments made during a joint news conference of Democratic and Republican public officials last month on a proposal to bring 60,000 undocumented immigrants to the Atlantic City International Airport in Egg Harbor Township. The proposal was eventually nixed by Gov. Phil Murphy.
Polistina said in the September news conference, without any statistics, sourcing or proof, that immigrants are the cause of a whole host of social ills, including long lines at hospital emergency rooms, high inflation, lack of resources, the supply chain crisis, and even the speed the police respond to local 911 calls.
“Once someone enters the county and applies for asylum, they are supposed to get the protection of all of our laws, but that’s beside the point,” Fitzpatrick said at the debate. “When we had the press conference in Atlantic City you were not very welcoming and the words and rhetoric that you spoke were horrendous and very hateful.”
Polistina, who was criticized by numerous leaders in the local Latino community for the September comments, said bringing the immigrants to the airport was viewed negatively by local Democrats and Republicans because the county lacked the resources and infrastructure for such an influx.
“We have a serious problem in this country, and it’s a problem that’s been here for many, many years,” Polistina said. “It has been both parties in control that have created this problem.
“It’s not about immigrants whatsoever. It’s about an activity that is illegal, and I say, and we should all say, we are a nation of laws. We want everybody to be able to come here legally.”
Through the debate, Polistina spoke about his legislative priorities focusing on continuing investments into the economy to further bring down property taxes and add more equitable education funding.
Fitzpatrick’s main legislative priorities focused on transportation, continuing the increase in funding for education to alleviate taxpayer rates, and boosting the Atlantic County population to bring in investors.
Another concern for many in Atlantic County, especially along the shore, is the effectiveness of offshore wind turbines. Both candidates took firm opposing views on their impact on the shore and their long-lasting effects.
Fitzpatrick said that she understands that in order to reap the benefits of the offshore wind turbines the state needs to make the investments to build them.
“I do support building wind turbines off the New Jersey coast,” Fitzpatrick said. “There are many reasons including thousands of union jobs all over the region not just Atlantic County. The studies that I’ve seen show that the costs to the consumer will not be a big increase.”
Fitzpatrick further touched on clean energy initiatives in the state and feels American ingenuity is fully capable of meeting the 2035 clean energy goals. However, she does not support the idea of invoking mandates on things such as electric vehicles but rather offering incentives to move people away from fossil fuels.
Polistina views offshore wind turbines and clean energy as moving too fast toward the 2035 clean energy goals because of the increased costs to consumers and the long-term environmental effects of wind farms.
Polistina said he feels that Atlantic County and the state as a whole aren’t ready to take on the electricity it would take for more electric cars and utilities but will continue to move towards as much clean energy as possible.
“Our energy policy is a disaster right now. We have to do an all above approach, we cannot do this one way that raises costs for consumers,” Polistina said. “As for the wind farms, I’ve said we need to take a deep breath here. We should take the time to understand what’s going on with marine life…There’s no question our infrastructure can’t handle all-electric vehicles by 2035– we don’t even have the grid to produce that kind of electricity.”
Parents and School Curriculum
Polistina and Fitzpatrick agree that the state and federal governments shouldn’t be the ones to set school curriculums.
“The state and government shouldn’t be mandating what’s going in individual classrooms,” Fitzpatrick said. “That should be up to the teachers, parents, and school districts to talk with each other and decide what’s appropriate for their community.”
Polistina said parents should not be shut out in having a say in what is being taught in schools.
“Parents raise their children, parents support their children, and parents love their children,” Polistina began. “The notion that we are going to set school curriculum guidelines at the state and federal level and we aren’t going to let the parents have a say in their children’s education or curriculum is crazy.”
In terms of claims that New Jersey schools are segregating students, both sides could agree that education needs to be more equitable and funds need to be dispersed more evenly across districts. Both candidates believe that everyone deserves an equal chance in every community.
“From an education standpoint, I believe every child deserves an equal start, so you start from the framework that every child regardless of what community you are in, regardless of who you are, where you’re from, you get an equal start,” Polistina said. “Then we do have some issues that we need to deal with in some communities so you start from there.”
Fitzpatrick said that New Jersey has the fourth highest rate of school segregation in the nation and it’s a larger problem that some people realize.
“Again, property tax plays a big part in this,” Fitzpatrick said. “We need to figure out, it’s part of the school funding system of how to integrate schools so that everyone does get their fair shot.”
In their closing remarks, both candidates expressed their eagerness to continue serving Atlantic County and wanting to continue working for the people despite politics within the state.
“This is a great forum to hear the differences, and today I think we’ve heard some stark differences,” Polistina said. “We are going to be from our standpoint pro-parent, pro-family, pro-worker, pro-child from an educational standpoint everyone deserves an equal opportunity in this state.
“I’ve always focused on getting things done, I will continue to focus on getting things done that is what it’s all about.”
Fitzpatrick said that she ran for office in 2017 because he wanted to feel represented and still feels that way.
“I have spent my time building relationships all over the county so that I can firsthand see and hear what our residents want in their lives,” Fitzpatrick said.
District 2 Assembly Debate
Two seats are up in the District 2 Assembly race and Republican incumbents Guardian and Swift went head-to-head with Democratic newcomers Lisa Bender and Alphonso Harrell on similar issues addressed in that debate.
Bender and Harrell emphasized their biggest priorities going into the next term benign affordability, healthcare, and veteran services throughout Atlantic County. Guardian and Swift want to prioritize clean energy, affordability, job growth, and police funding.
The Bob Menendez Question
The candidates faced a hard-hitting question about political discourse because of illegal activities by elected officials and the process that should be taken going forward in these circumstances.
“I believe when you run for these positions politics have become so toxic that you don’t even get good candidates to run for these positions anymore,” Harrel said. “I choose to run because we need good honest people, and if someone is not doing the right thing where we are hurting the people for our own good that’s not what we need.”
“I think when you move into an elected official position there’s a higher standard that’s expected of you,” Guardian followed. “I absolutely agree that you should be dealing with corruption by removing them from office if they’re found guilty, and suspending while waiitng to find out if they are guilty.”
Swift followed Guardian’s statement by pointing out the recent indictment of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, his wife, and co-conspirators saying that, “… he should immediately be removed from office. Elected officials have a higher standard.”
Bender followed Swift’s statement in agreeing that Menendez should be dismissed from his position and that the Democratic party has been making calls for Menendez’s immediate removal from office.
“If they break the law and they are under investigation, even though you’re innocent until proven guilty, it does sow a little bit of doubt, a little bit of concern in the people that are leading them, so we have to consider suspension for the people until they’re able to go to trial,” Bender said.
Wind Turbines On the Shore
Moving onto wind turbines and clean energy, the incumbents and candidates had a wide range of ideas, opinions, and understandings of the plan to meet the 2035 clean energy goals.
Guardian and Swift recognize the various alternatives to fossil fuels such as nuclear and solar power but feel that wind turbines are still too new and we don’t have all the information about their overall effects yet. Further emphasizing the costs of the wind turbines and how their benefits outweigh the funds needed to build them.
“Again, I’m a lifelong resident of Atlantic County growing up at the shore and I have never in my life seen anything like we’ve seen in the last year. Dead whales, dead baby
whales because they believe that the baby whales are losing their mother and they can’t get food and showing up on our shores,” Swift said.
Bender and Harrell said they believe that we need to embrace clean energy and move away from fossil fuels. Additionally, they said the wind farms have so much upside in terms of economic growth alongside environmental benefits. Further countering Swift’s remarks about wind farms and marine life deaths, Harrell blames the effects of climate change causing harm to marine life.
“It would be an absolute mistake to take this opportunity away we may not get it again, so we will have good-paying union jobs here, we have the green jobs which are the number growing jobs in New Jersey, so if we miss this vote we are not getting our fair share down here in South Jersey,” Bender said.
Both sides agreed that there needs to be more partisan communication to get more down all over New Jersey to set a better example for young Americans who are concerned about the current climate of politics.
In their closing statements, Swift and Guardian emphasized their desire to keep pushing for more partisan deals to keep Atlantic County moving forward and receiving their fair share in funds.
Bender and Harrell emphasized their drive to keep pushing forward to be the best representatives for the people within Atlantic County by fighting for more equality in funds and dispersing them in the areas that need it most.
NOTE: Emily Hamilton is a student at Stockton University and has been a contributor in the past to Front Runner New Jersey.com.
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