Elections

Invoking Bernie Sanders, Progressives Eye Middlesex Freeholder Board

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NEW BRUNSWICK — Two progressive candidates for Middlesex County freeholder—who have based their agenda on that of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders—hope to bump Democratic incumbents from the ballot tomorrow, June 6, in the primary election.

Atif Nazir and Catherine Hunt hope to represent the Democrats in the November election. Two three-year terms on the county board will be up for grabs then.

Nazir and Hunt are running on behalf of the Central Jersey Progressive Democrats, a new faction that claims to sit left of existing blue politicians in the area. They’re facing a pair of sitting freeholders from the Middlesex County Democratic Organization.

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The Central Jersey Progressives didn’t field a candidate in the race to fill the final year of an unexpired term on the freeholder board.

Legislators on the county freeholder board develop policies, vote on ordinances and resolutions and work with administrators to enact their agendas, representing residents of the 25 municipalities in Middlesex.

Primary elections offer partisans the chance to choose their candidates in the November general election. Registered Democrats may vote tomorrow in their party’s primaries, and Republicans may do the same for their party.

Unaffiliated voters may ask for a ballot from either party at their polling stations. By doing so, however, voters become registered with the party in whose primary they voted.

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. For information on where to vote, click here.

TAPinto New Brunswick sent questions to each freeholder candidate in the run-up to the primary elections. Below are responses from the Central Jersey Progressive Democrats’ candidates. They may have been edited for grammar, style or brevity.

Atif Nazir, Piscataway

Describe your background and why you are qualified for the office.

As a father of public school children, I care deeply about education and am proud to be elected twice since 2013 to the Piscataway Board of Education, where I’ve served on the curriculum, finance, community relations, and policy and legislative committees.

I am a member of the Society Hill Board, serving as vice president, treasurer and trustee. I have served on the Piscataway Health Advisory Commission, Civil Rights Advisory Commission, and have engaged in interfaith cooperation among religious institutions locally and nationally. I was a member of AFSCME Local 2299, and am now a member of IUOE Local 68.

I have worked in the field of public health for 15 years at multiple public health departments. As CEO of the Health Department, I plan, manage and oversee various public health programs for the city, including communicable disease surveillance and investigation, public health nursing, health education, environmental health, rabies control, maternal child health, WIC vital statistics and childhood lead prevention, among other public health-related issues. I will bring my knowledge of our communities, to solve problems and represent the diversity and values of our community.

What do you consider the most pressing issue facing Middlesex County and how would you address it?

I consider the Trump agenda to be the biggest threat to Middlesex County and believe it is the responsibility of our leaders to stand up for working families. Trump’s proposed budget cuts are mean and dangerous, even eliminating Meals on Wheels and Special Olympics. These cuts will harm the well-being of our most vulnerable residents and working families, middle-class residents and seniors, in order to transfer more of our federal resources to build a useless wall and to make the wealthy richer. I will work with others to oppose this budget, and make sure that our tax dollars are being spent equitably.

I am extremely concerned by the proposed Transco pipeline and the compressor station. These developments increase our reliance on fossil fuels, instead of reducing it.  As a freeholder, I would work to stop this proposal.

I was glad to see that our current freeholder representatives have finally taken some steps to address concerns from residents who have been asking them to revise the county’s policy regarding undocumented immigrants. I would work to resolve the remaining concerns that immigration advocates continue to have. Our leaders need to be at the forefront of these issues.

What else do you hope to accomplish if you are elected?

I believe deeply in the policy objective outlined by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and have adopted them as our own. We want to advance an agenda for social, political and economic justice for Middlesex County residents.

As previously noted, we do not take campaign contributions from corporations. We oppose tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires that are paid for by increasing the tax burden on the working and middle class. Last year’s Transportation Trust Fund deal is one example of this; our Democratic leaders supported a regressive tax on gas, which everyone pays, but cut the estate tax for 3,500 wealthy families. That’s wrong for Middlesex County residents, who often have long commutes, and limited public transportation choices.

As an elected leader of the growing Muslim community in our county, I hope I can increase understanding and cooperation between neighbors of all backgrounds and faiths. 

Catherine Hunt, Monroe

Describe your background and why you are qualified for the office.

I am a resident of Monroe Township, a grandmother and a retired community health nurse. I have been active in the movement for progressive change for over a decade.

I have been an active participant in Our Revolution since its inception, including work for Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and being part of the delegation that asked Sen. Bernie Sanders to run for President at the PDA's 10-year anniversary event. I helped to facilitate the Run, Bernie, Run campaign which helped show Sen. Sanders that his presidential bid could be viable.

A lifelong social justice activist, I am also a member of the National Nurses Association. I perform regularly at rallies, demonstrations and protests with the Solidarity Singers. I am the secretary of the Rossmoor Democratic Club, a member of the Monroe Democratic Club, the treasurer of Medicare for All NJ, a New Jersey Universal Health Care Coalition Alternate board member and a member of Indivisible Monroe.

While this is the first time I am running for office, I have worked on numerous campaigns to elect progressive Democrats to represent my community in Middlesex County, as well as at the state and federal level.

What do you consider the most pressing issue facing Middlesex County and how would you address it?

I think Donald Trump and his agenda, which amount to a huge transfer of wealth from working families and seniors, are biggest threat to residents of Middlesex County. Trump’s proposed budget cuts, for example, will do so much harm to our most vulnerable residents, eliminating Meals on Wheels, the Special Olympics and volunteer service positions. He’s doing this to build a useless wall and make his rich friends wealthier. I will work with others to oppose this budget and fight for Medicare for All, so that every county resident has access to health care. California is moving in that direction, and our leaders need to evaluate our options as well.

I am extremely concerned the proposed Transco pipeline and the compressor station that would go along with it; these developments increase our reliance on fossil fuels, instead of reducing it.  As a freeholder, I would work to stop this proposal. I was glad to see that our current freeholders recently took steps to address concerns from residents who have been asking them to revise the county’s policy regarding undocumented immigrants. I’ll work to resolve the remaining concerns that immigration advocates have. Our elected representatives should be leading on these issues.

What else do you hope to accomplish if you are elected?

As someone who worked hard to get Sen. Sanders to run for the Democratic Party nomination in 2016, it is incredibly rewarding to be part of a large slate of candidates who are organizing people to take back our party. My running mates and are working to advance an agenda for social, political and economic justice for Middlesex County residents. Last year’s Transportation Trust Fund deal is an egregious example of this; our Democratic leaders supported a regressive tax on gas, which everyone pays, but cut the estate tax for 3,500 wealthy families. That’s wrong for Middlesex County residents, who often have long commutes and limited public transportation choices. I hope that our campaign and service in office, should we be elected, helps restore voter confidence in the democratic process and the Democratic Party itself. We need a strong party that can resist the Trump agenda and stand up for the needs of our residents.

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