SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Convinced that "corruption in Union County politics has to stop," Republican Bo Vastine of Scotch Plains has announced his intention to run for embattled Democrat Linda Stender's 22nd District (LD22) seat in November.
"I have been committed to running for this seat since the middle of January. Since then, I have been reaching out to people, including the county chairs of all three counties, announcing my intention to run," said Vastine, explaining the timing of his announcement. "I also met with Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick and told him I wanted to run. The plan was to announce my decision at the Union County Conference in March."
So why is Vastine, who lost his seat on the Scotch Plains Town Council in November after a contentious campaign, jumping back into the political arean so soon and getting into this race?
"I am running because I believe we need new leadership, a new direction," Vastine asserted. "While residents struggle to find work, Linda Stender moves to the front of the line taking a $90,000 'low show' job with Union County, a position created for her."
"At what point in her long career in public service has Linda Stender focused her energy on expanding economic opportunities for all New Jerseyans as much as she has for herself," Vastine asked. "It seems to be a priority for the people who have been elected to focus on lining their own pockets instead of creating opportunities for everyone."
"We don't need more legislation about recycling and marijuana"
"What we need is real leadership," Vastine believes. "I looked at her legislation, Linda Stender spent 40 percent of her time focusing on recycling and another 40 percent focusing on marijuana. Those two issues have been her primary focus for two years. Meanwhile, a town like Plainfield, which is in her district, has an unemployment rate double the national average."
Vastine maintains that the Assembly needs to focus on creating jobs and getting rid of arcane restrictions on business so that companies want to relocate to New Jersey instead of moving away.
"We should be working on expanding our economy and reducing stifling regulations which drive businesses away along with the jobs they create," Vastine says.
"For far too long, Linda Stender and Jerry Green have been returned to Trenton as the elected representatives of the 22nd District, concerned primarily with what they and their insider friends can get out of the system," Vastine said. "Just recently, we saw Linda Stender actively promote hiring an unqualified town manager in Scotch Plains (making $145,000) who then turned around and gave her a job for which she was unqualified working for Union County (making $90,000)."
"I say: when is enough…enough? When are our elected officials going to make the voters their priority? We need to send representatives to Trenton who are ready to focus on the right priorities."
Working in Plainfield
"Every day, I see people who are homeless. They are bright, intelligent people who either lost their job or their company moved away," said Vastine, a finance manager for the Plainfield YMCA. "The education system is broken and who suffers for it: the taxpayers who fund an education system that isn't working and the kids who are losing hope. We're throwing money at engineers and candlestick makers and spending a lot of money on our education system, but we are cheating the taxpayers and our children. It's broken, it's not working. Why aren't Linda Stender and Jerry Green focusing on our children's education?"
Vastine says that "when you look at all of this together, it creates a powerful cocktail which leads to young people losing hope. President Obama talks about free community college, but what good is that if there are no jobs when you are done."
Did recent circumstances change the timing of your announcement?
"I see this latest issue with Linda Stender as a culmination. We've seen people get high paying jobs with no experience and the educational background. So why wouldn't she believe she could get away with this? It's the way they've always done things," Vastine said. "I don't wish Linda Stender ill. That's not my focus. My focus in pointing to this is that it serves as an example of why we need change. We should apply the medical oath of 'Do no harm' to politicians."
Vastine is a frequent poster on social media and admittedly unafraid to express his position. He knows that lots of times the retorts get personal.
"In a recent chain about Linda Stender's issues, an individual attacked me and my motives," explained Vastine, who said that social media of today did not exist when he ran for the Assembly five years ago. "The choice that I have to make is: do I stand up to a bully or look the other way? These things transcend politics. Don't denigrate my opinion by making it personal. Because I am running for office, why am I not afforded free speech in social media as anyone else?"
Vastine said that he has a Facebook page and Twitter account that he plans to focus on using during the campaign and maintains that the facts triumph in the long run.
"For anybody to suggest a candidate shouldn't use social media -- come on, let's be serious. It is a force. Social media is evolving, and we're trying to figure it out."
Can a Republican win this District?
"There were only a few times when Assembly is at the top of the ticket. This time, there's no coattails involved. It's all about you and your record, not the Union County Democratic machine getting out the vote," Vastine said.
"Democrats talk to me and tell me they are tired of the corruption. They are hardworking taxpayers who don't want to see their elected officials put into 'low show' jobs and taking advantage of a charity," said Vastine, who said such actions illustrate a disconnect with the electorate.
"The Assembly needs to create an atmosphere that will help create jobs. We need representatives who will focus on reducing the cost of government and who will work to make New Jersey affordable for all residents," said Vastine. "While all these accusations (against Linda Stender) are bad, the larger crime is her legislative history. I don't want this to be lost in the conversation. I believe the current direction, ideas and leadership in Trenton is not working. It's time for new priorities, of which I would be one voice."
The 22nd Legislative District of the NJ State Assembly covers Dunellen and Middlesex Borough (Middlesex County); Green Brook and North Plainfield (Somerset County); and the Union County municipalities of Clark, Fanwood, Linden, Plainfield, Rahway, Scotch Plains, and Winfield Township. The district is currently represented by Jerry Green (Plainfield) and Linda Stender (Scotch Plains), both Democrats. Voter registration in the district is 41.9% Democratic, 13.5% Republican and 44.5% Unaffiliated. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the demographic breakdown is: 57.4% White, 24.8% Black/African American, 4.4% Asian, 9.8% other. Latinos of either race comprise 25.3% of the district's population.