Editor’s note: This is the second in a series about the forum held at Stangl Stage here last week with candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.
FLEMINGTON, NJ – A forum sponsored by Progressive Hunterdon Democrats featured three Democratic gubernatorial candidates and spokespersons for two others.
Bill Brennan, Ray Lesniak and Mark Zinna each appeared at the event. John Wisniewski was represented by his wife, Debbie Wisniewski; Mike Beson spoke on behalf of Phil Murphy.
Among the recurring topics at the forum was corruption at the state level, both the result of overt government action – such as Bridgegate – and the result of “business as usual” in New Jersey.
Brennan noted that he’d filed a criminal complaint against Christie “for his role in the Bridgegate scandal.” Two judges found “probable cause to believe that Christie was guilty” of the offense that caused the traffic tie-ups in Fort Lee, yet the complaint was dismissed administratively by the Bergen County Prosecutor, Brennan said.
Brennan called the process “just dangerous, when you have someone in office who is immune from litigation, who is immune from the rule of law.” He called what happened the result of the governor’s power, “to appoint the Attorney General, every Deputy Attorney general, every County prosecutor and every Assistant County Prosecutor.”
Brennan cautioned that, “We’re no longer living in a free society when the power of government can be used against a citizen to force them, or coerce them.”
Lesniak railed against Gov. Christie for a deal with ExxonMobil “that gave away a $9.2 billion claim for $225 million.”
Lesniak said he’s taking both parties to court over the settlement.
“I’m going to win that case,” he said.
Beson, speaking on behalf of Murphy, said the candidate wants a state-owned bank, such as was established in North Dakota 100 years ago. “Instead of having foreign-owned banks ... we want to have a state bank, run by us, lending money to municipalities and New Jersey institutions that need help, so that this money can stay in the state, rather than being moved offshore.”
Beson also railed against the financial advisors with whom the state contracts.
“They’re making a killing, regardless of how the fund does,” Beson said. “It’s time, like Warren Buffet has said, to use index funds as a way to grow our pension fund.
“Take it out of the hands of the hedge fund managers,” Beson said, “and bring it back to smart, safe returns.”
Wisniewski said her husband, Assemblyman John Wisniewski, “has become increasingly troubled by the lack of leadership in Trenton.”
The assemblyman’s concern really began about a decade ago, she said, when he was troubled with former Gov. Jon Corzine’s plan to sell the N. J. Turnpike and Garden State Parkway to a private, for-profit entity.
Wisniewski’s rejection of the idea placed him “in opposition with his own party,” she said.
“He stood up,” Wisniewski said. “travelling throughout the state to get the word out, which saved many middle class union jobs and 800 percent toll hikes.”
Zinna said he is “very concerned about the institutionalized corruption in this state.”
He recalled his recent tour of the statehouse in Trenton. “It is decrepit. It is falling apart. It symbolizes what’s been happening in this state, and how our elected representatives and the county bosses have neglected the people of this state ... that needs to stop.
“The thing that bothers me most,” Zinna added, “is the way the non-democratic process of this nomination ... this election, this nomination, is effectively being over-run with cash and being bought by the front runner in this race. And it’s wrong.
“The voters are angry ... we better start paying attention,” Zinna said.
The forum was moderated by Steve Chernoski, a Lambertville resident who teaches sixth- and eighth-grade leadership and human rights in the Millburn School district. He is also a reporter for the New Hope Free press and the creator of New Jersey: The Movie.