On Tuesday, Nov. 7, the polls will open for what have been called some of the most important New Jersey elections to date.
Two of Hudson County’s prominent Democrats, Robert Menendez of Hoboken and Albio Sires of West New York, are vying for seats in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives respectively.
When Menendez was appointed to fill Gov. Jon Corzine’s old Senate seat last year, Sires hoped to fill Menendez’s congressional seat.
But will he get it?
Sires, who is currently serving as West New York Mayor and 33rd District Assemblyman, faces a Republican opponent and a small group of Independents.
In the lead
Over the last few months of the campaign trail, constituents have seen the ads and heard the promises of Albio Sires’ general election campaign, which has been far more laid back than during the Democratic Primary last June when he fought off Joe Vas of Perth Amboy.
“I expect to continue to fight for the people in the 13th District of New Jersey,” said Sires on Wednesday. “Certainly the war is a very strong issue with me. I feel we were lied to in order to get into Iraq, and I think we should have an exit strategy within a year.”
Born in the Bejucal community of Cuba, Albio Sires and his family fled to the United States in 1962, and settled in West New York.
While attending Memorial High School, the 6’4″ basketball star and earned a scholarship to St. Peters College; then returned to Memorial High School as a teacher.
In 1995 he successfully ran for Mayor of West New York, where he remained for the past 12 years. He has been credited with balancing the municipal budget and reducing crime.
“Twelve years ago, when I became mayor, we ran on a platform of lower taxes, crime, and rejuvenation of West New York,” Sires said. “And certainly the people that own a home in West New York today would reap the benefits of less money in taxes. Crime is down 31 percent in that [12-year] period. We have a different structure in the police department – 43 supervisors and 123 officers – and now we have a director who has done a magnificent job.”
Sires’ administration also recently completed the renovation of all the town’s parks, and most green spaces.
Sires is also currently serving his fourth term as representative of the 33rd Legislative District, which encompasses most of the North Hudson area, and served as Assembly speaker from 2002 to 2006. He was the first Hispanic Assembly speaker in the state.
Among some of his accomplishments in the Assembly was successfully placing a public referendum on the 2005 general election ballot to establish the office of lieutenant governor, and sponsored numerous bills including for an increase of the state’s minimum wage, and the millionaire’s tax.
Sires is hoping to bring his same level of success to Congress, and already has projects he’d like to begin.
“Well certainly to bring our troops home from Iraq, and I certainly intend to get involved in Homeland Security, because we have one the most dangerous miles in the district,” he said.
Republican opponent from Jersey City
There are five candidates facing Sires.
Running on the Republican ticket is Jersey City resident John Guarini.
“I have to campaign in a different manner [than Albio Sires],” said Guarini, who has been running a modest door-to-door campaign in Jersey City, Bayonne and other areas of Hudson County. When interviewed, he had yet to visit some of the other surrounding areas of the 13th District including a few municipalities in Essex, Middlesex and Union counties.
“The turnouts in the general election are so disgraceful because people are so [disillusioned] with the Democratic Party,” said Guarini. “It’s more of a machine than a political base. The message is we have an over abundance of corruption in Hudson County.”
Guarini has called himself the only original blue-collar candidate, and has focused his platform on inner-city issues such as drug use and a rising AIDS epidemic. He has also worked predominantly behind the scenes for years with the Republican Party, and is the cousin of former Rep. Frank Guarini.
Among the independent candidates running in the election includes Dick Hester of Newark, who is running as a Pro-Life Conservative. He has 16 children.
“I have always been interested in politics, especially on the local level, although I never ran for city office,” said Hester. Hester has, however, run for several offices from the Senate on down.
A father of 16 and grandfather of 38, politics seems to be a family affair. In 1995 Hester and one of his daughters ran for positions in the state Assembly.
“It’s to give people who are pro-life [a choice] to vote for someone with an open heart,” said Hester, who will continue to run for elected office until he’s physically able, under the same premise.
Herbert Shaw of North Bergen, who is running under the slogan Politicians Are Crooks, has run for office numerous times and never won.
“I know there is no chance of me winning this election, but my candidacy is an opportunity to represent those who are not satisfied with the people in elected office,” said Shaw. “I have been running since the 1960s, and I have run for everything including U.S. Senate in 1978 when I came out No. 3. [This election] is really a lost cause, but at least there is a record that someone spoke up.”
Still there are candidates who are still fighting for the seat in the 13th with optimism.
Dr. Esmat Zaklama of Jersey City is running under The American Party. He ran for state Senate in 1991 and for U.S. Congress.
“The reason I’m running is I think we are going in the [wrong] direction, and its time for someone to step in and put it in the right direction,” said Zaklama.
Among some of the issues Zaklama pledges to address in the Congress including medical insurance at minimal fees for adults and free for children and the disabled; mandatory state ID cards and registrations with census bureau to flush out terrorists; reform to the justice system including no judicial immunity; and changes to Social Security reform, immigration, and education.
“I don’t play games, and what is wrong needs to be corrected to have a healthy society,” said Zaklama. “In my own personal opinion, white people, as well as blacks and minorities, are enslaved to their jobs, living in stress, feeling helpless and with no backbone to let them resent the adverse conditions they are put under. Things need to be turned upside-down to lift all their oppressions and set them free of all their loads. I know that I can change things.”
For more on Zaklama and his platform visit www.drzaklama.com.
Brian Williams of Newark is running under the Socialist Workers Party, and is also a reporter for the Militant Newspaper, a socialist weekly publication. In addition, Williams takes his causes beyond New Jersey’s borders.
“[Williams] recently traveled to the coal field in West Virginia to support the strengthening of unions and safety,” said Nancy Rosenstock, campaign director. “He has also campaigned for withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
Although Williams has run for elected positions in the past, this is his first time running for office in New Jersey.
More on Williams can be found on www.themilitant.com.