RARITAN, NJ -- Jack Ciattarelli returned to the elementary school where he learned his ABCs and penmanship as a young boy Tues., Jan. 21, to make it official - he is a candidate for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in the 2021 June primary, and the man to fix New Jersey.
There will be other candidates vying for the votes of Garden State Republicans, but Ciattarelli made no mention of them, instead, ripping into Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy as if they were already going toe-to-toe just weeks before the 2021 election.
"Phil Murphy doesn't get it," Ciattarelli said. "Maybe it's because he's not from New Jersey. But he doesn't understand New Jersey... He's not New Jersey.
"People are fed up," Ciattarelli continued. "We need bold leadership. We need leadership that identifies with everyday New Jerseyans."
Ciattarelli is the first officially-declared Republican candidate, making his announcement more than a year before the June 8 state primary, and as he noted, 561 days before the 2021 general election.
There were several hundred supporters gathered in the gym at the John F. Kennedy School to relish the return of their favorite son to the political arena, and they cheered every time Ciattarelli took a swipe at the Democratic governor - which was often.
He criticized Murphy for his priorities, singling out his support of a bill that would enable undocumented immigrants to obtain New Jersey drivers' licenses and faulted the governor for a statement he made to a group of business leaders in Glassboro last October in which he suggested that if an individual or business was concerned about taxes, New Jersey might not be the right fit.
“If you’re a one-issue voter and tax rate is your issue, either a family or a business, if that’s the only basis upon which you’re going to make a decision, we’re probably not your state,” Murphy said at the time.
Ciattarelli also blasted the governor for suggesting New Jersey could become a more progressive state like California.
The fiery 58-year-old would have none of that.
"We don't need to be the California of the east coast or a progressive beacon," Ciattarelli said.
"Here's what we want: Fix the damn state; how about lowering our damn taxes; there's a priority for you."
The gritty blue collar town is where Ciattatelli cut his teeth as a politician. Many of the senior citizens in the crowd, some of whom arrived on a school bus, knew him in his younger days.
Noting that his kindergarten class was about 100 feet away from where he stood on the podium inside the gym, Ciattarelli blended old school stories about the days back when, of his immigrant parents and the American dream, contrasting those times with the current state of New Jersey.
He painted a bleak picture - runaway property taxes, people and businesses moving out of the state because they can't afford to live or make money here, underfunded schools, misguided priorities and still nothing being done about New Jerseyans' federal tax dollars coming back to the state in the form of federal aid.
"We want a New Jersey where senior citizens don't get pushed out of their houses; we want graduating college seniors to return home after graduating college where they can achieve the American Dream. That's the New Jersey we want," Ciattarelli said.
New Jersey is the top "donor" state in the nation, ranking dead last on the list of states receiving a return on their federal tax dollars. For every dollar sent to Washington, New Jersey receives 82 cents in return, according to a 2019 study by the Rockefeller Institute of Government.
New Jersey deserves better, Ciattarelli said, whose campaign platform declares "Jack Can Fix It." and "Let's Fix NJ. Supporters picked up the "Fix It" signs as they entered the gym and waved them in the air or held them by their sides waiting for the next opportunity to show their support for Ciattarelli.
If elected governor, Ciattarelli said he would call a state constitutional convention to address the state's school-funding formula and affordable housing requirements. He also vowed that if the state Senate and Assembly, now controlled by Democrats, doesn't work with him, he will call for referendums if necessary.
"Let the people decide," Ciattarelli said.
Ciattarelli served on the Raritan Borough Council and was elected mayor of his hometown, before moving to Hillsborough. He served as a Somerset County Freeholder before running for the state Assembly, serving three terms between 2012 and 2018. He gave up his Assembly seat to run in the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2017, losing out to Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who lost the general election to Murphy. She had served eight years under former Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
If history repeats itself, Ciattarelli noted that no Democratic governor of New Jersey has been reelected in the past 42 years.
"One and done in '21," Ciattarelli said, referring to Murphy.
"You don't know Jack," is how Ciattarelli responds to those who question his ability to break through to voters and sway Democrats to join with loyal Republicans and independents in November's election.
"Can a Republican win? I can." Ciattarelli said.
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