PLAINFIELD, NJ -- "I have a business approach to running the party. There are two parts to the business: one is getting out the vote: the politics. The other part is getting the job done," says 22nd District NJ Assemblyman and Union County Democratic Chair Gerald B. "Jerry" Green. "Politics is business."
Green, who stands 6-foot-3, grew up in Roselle and was a star basketball player in high school. He attended Montclair State University and originally wanted to be a teacher but found out that he could earn more money in business. He began working as a butcher in a supermarket because it was the position that paid the highest amount. He was opening stores by age 27 and went to management classes where he says he learned how to interact with people. Green also has been involved in real estate and boasted that he has never been unemployed.
"I learned people skills -- how to listen and how to communicate. I use those skills in the position I'm in today. The voter is a customer of mine that I have to satisfy if I want to stay in this business," Green believes.
Green said he got into politics because he "didn't see candidates moving in the right direction" during the 1960s. People saw me as successful and said: "Work with us, you understand young men and women in the urban community."
Born April 16, 1939, Green has served in the New Jersey General Assembly since 1992 and is currently the longest-serving Assemblyman. He has been the Assembly's Speaker Pro Tempore since 2008 and serves as chair of the Housing and Local Government Committee and as a member of the Health and Senior Services Committee.
Green previously served on the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders from 1989-91 and was the Board's Chair in 1990. He also served on the County Planning Board, the Parks & Recreation Committee, Human Services and Economic Development Committees, the Private Industry Council, and the Municipal Utilities Authority.
When Green first ran for Union County Freeholder, his top issues were jobs and recreation.
"We weren't getting our fair share. I realized that if you are not on the inside, you cannot accomplish anything from the outside. I might as well be elected and have a seat at the table," Green said. "Today I am in that position."
Green says providing affordable housing is his main focus in Trenton.
"Policies for housing are not moving in the right direction under this governor. Affordable housing must follow Council of Affordable Housing (COAH) guidelines so that no one feels that we are forcing housing in a community," Green explained. "Affordable housing does not mean just people in need, but families with children and public servants, such as teachers and police officers, who cannot afford to live in the communities they serve. People deserve decent homes that are secure, comfortable and safe."
Relationship with Linda Stender
Green, who has served alongside embattled Assemblywoman Linda Stender for the past 13 years, said the two are "not personal friends and do not go out together socially."
When asked about the controversy over Stender's husband's dealings with Habitat for Humanity in Monmouth County and her missing votes on more than 33 bills and resolutions in the New Jersey Assembly on Feb. 23, Feb. 24 and March 2, Green responded that "The Linda Stender I know worked hand-in-hand with me to bring the right services to the 22nd District."
Green said the Habitat for Humanity issue was brought to his attention only two hours before Channel Nine's Chasing New Jersey investigation of her husband's enlisting Habitat for Humanity to demolish the couple's shore house.
"I don't want to be anyone's judge and jury," Green explained. "It troubles me if the allegations are true. It's a legal matter now. I want to give her the benefit of the doubt."
"The organizations says they owe $11,000 and that they felt misled," Green continued. "Personally, I would have used better judgment in terms of who I'd seek to build my house."
"It's sad that Scotch Plains has gone through this."
Green, who wears two hats as 22nd District Assemblyman and Union County Democratic Party Chair, said he wouldn't describe his position on Linda Stender as a vote of no confidence.
"I explained to her that it (the Habitat for Humanity controversy) would not go away and that no matter what happens, I don't want to have to spend time talking about this for the next eight months. It is important for me to talk about is affordable housing, not about her," Green explained. "I separated myself from the issue."
Green said that he did not ask Stender to resign or to step down as the local Scotch Plains Democratic Committee chair. He said that he gave her 48 hours to decide what she wanted to do and then had to respond to press inquiries. "I felt it was time to move on," he explained.
"A lot of times I reached out. She is not communicating," Green added, maintaining that he did not think the issue would hurt the Democratic party. "Already in Scotch Plains, the mayor, the council members, and the team have put this behind them. In two months, they will likely have a new local chair."
Relationship with Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr
After Linda Stender announced that she would not seek re-election alongside Green in November, the Democratic party then had to decide who should replace her on the ballot. Two candidates arose: former Rahway Mayor Jim Kennedy, who left office in 2011 and has worked as a lobbyist ever since, and Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, whom Stender mentored.
On March 4, a vote among Union County Democratic chairs was held in the back room of Giovanna's Restaurant in Plainfield. The vote split 4-3 vote among local chairs in favor of former Rahway Mayor Jim Kennedy. The deciding vote was cast by State Senator Nick Scutari, to whom Stender had proxied her vote as Scotch Plains Democratic chair.
"She had the power to do what she wanted with her vote. Two years ago, people she trusted tried to dump her. Some jumped on her grave. She didn't know who to trust," Green said of Stender's decision to give her vote to Scutari, who is a resident of Linden. "I can't control what Linda does. I can't force or threaten her."
Green called his decision to choose Kennedy over Mahr was "one of the toughest decisions I ever had to make politically."
"Mayor Mahr has done a tremendous job. She's smart and aggressive. I give her credit for the the way she runs the Fanwood," said Green, adding that he was sensitive to the feelings of women voters in the district who may feel that Mahr was snubbed. "I was raised by a single mom and saw how hard she had to work to raise us. My dad died when I was four years old. I give women the benefit of the doubt."
Green detailed his two primary reasons for going with Kennedy.
"First, I know Jim Kennedy and admire the job he did in Rahway. I reached out to him and explained that I am ready to take on a huge challenge with affordable housing," Green said. "He has the experience and the connections with people who invest and do major projects."
"Second, I asked him to make a financial commitment. I need someone who can work with me full-time on this issue. I need that commitment," said Green, alluding to Mahr's job as head of the Union County Division of Strategic Planning and Intergovernmental Relations.
"Jim Kennedy is ready to commit 50-60 hours a week. It's more than a full-time job," added Green, who estimated that Kennedy may be forfeiting $150,000 in revenues that he could make with his lobbying and consulting business in order to undertake the affordable housing challenge for a $49,000 annual salary as an Assemblyman.
But what of loyalty to his own Union County Democratic Vice Chair, Colleen Mahr?
"If this was just about politics, I would not have hesitated to select her. Colleen is real good at what she does. She can work a room. It would have been the easy decision to choose a young woman," Green said. "I need someone with the skills to bring the right people together to turn around Union County, especially in places like Linden and Plainfield. I have a comfort zone with Kennedy's connections. He turned Rahway around, he put business deals together. Over the years, I've reached out and he has helped me."
"With Colleen, I've never had that relationship. She's done a good job as vice chair, but when we talk, it's always about the politics, not business," said Green. "She's still young enough to come back. I could see her running on a statewide ticket some day."
Power Shift from Suburbs to Urban Areas?
Mahr's supporters have said that the party's decision to go with Kennedy represents a power shift from the suburbs to urban areas. In a recent TAP into SPF interview, Fanwood Councilman Russ Huegel said, "It's a Rahway seat now, and it isn't coming back anytime soon."
Green dismisses the notion that the suburbs will be forgotten.
"I disagree. That's misleading. Call the mayor in Clark and ask, 'Has Jerry Green been there for you? Does he say I won't help because you're a Republican and I'm a Democrat?'," the Assemblyman replied. "I ask him, 'What can we do together?' I do the same for Scotch Plains and the other towns in the 22nd District."
"People in Plainfield deliver votes and don't see anything happening in return," Green responded. "When the highways were built 30-40 years ago, the people in Somerset and Watchung benefitted. In Piscataway and South Plainfield, they benefitted. Meanwhile, money has left Plainfield. The YMCA is in trouble. The Salvation Army needs to expand. We've allowed this to happen."
Green says he hears heartbreaking stories every day from people who can no longer afford their homes in Plainfield, and it is what motivates him to focus on affordable housing.
Green says he has been able to make a difference for Plainfield by fighting to have it designated as an Abbott District, which has brought $12 million to the city for education. He says the he brought in the funding for the building that houses his legislative office and other government offices at 200 East 2nd St. He was among those responsible for bringing Union County College to Plainfield and for bringing in $6 million to expand NJ Transit's "one-seat" ride into New York. "These are business decisions," Green explained.
The 75-year-old Green says he is ready for the challenge of another term and seemed confident that he would beat Republican candidates Bo Vastine and William Michelson for the 22nd District seat in November.
"I won my last election by 10,000 votes. You can't beat experience," Green said proudly. "I don't drink or smoke, and my mind is sharp."
"Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Clark -- they're all doing good, and I've been here all along. I'm not going to let anything happen to them."
When asked what he wants voters to know about him, Green replied quickly and assertively.
"I'm fair. I'm honest. I fight for what they need, not what Jerry Green needs," Green said. "I'm in a position to make a difference, and I'm happy to give back. It means a lot to me. That's why I got in to public service."