RARITAN, NJ - Former New Jersey Republican Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli announced Tuesday in a campaign kick-off at John F. Kennedy Primary School that he is seeking the Republican nomination for the governor’s race in 2021.
His message was clear.
“Bad policy decisions were made by both sides and we need to stop the bleeding," he said. "I am determined on your behalf to fix our broken state. This isn’t going to be easy, and I’m telling you right now it’s not going to be pretty."
The “Jack Can Fix It” signs held up around the gymnasium reflected Ciattarelli’s contention that New Jersey is broken and he can turn it around.
He laid out a list of what his top priorities in office would be, including lowering property taxes, reforming the state's tax code, rolling back burdensome regulations, limiting waste and streamlining government.
“Hardworking New Jerseyans are getting screwed,” he said. “Seniors are being pushed out of their homes, and our children are leaving the state because it’s no longer a place where people can afford to raise a family.”
He promised to be laser focused on fiscal responsibility and making New Jersey a place where people can live the American dream.
Ciattarelli noted that companies are leaving the state, the economy is lagging, New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation and it leads the country in the number of people migrating out of the state.
Ciattarelli, a certified public accountant and the former owner of a small publishing company, proposed to hold a state constitutional convention to make necessary changes in how public education and affordable housing is funded. He explained that if he doesn’t have support in the state legislature for the changes he’s proposing he would look to initiatives and referendums.
“I’ll give the power to the people,” he said.
He declared that Murphy’s leadership condoning sanctuary cities and driver's licenses for illegal immigrants should not be the priority.
“We don’t need an out-of-touch and tone-deaf governor,” Ciattarelli said.
He added that Murphy’s policies are not making New Jersey stronger or fairer, and they're not helping the middle class get ahead or lifting up the hardworking poor.
“His policies separate us more," said Ciattarelli, “I’ll work to bring us together because there is strength in diversity. It’s not important where you’re from, what’s important is where we’re going.”
Throwing Murphy’s own words back at him Ciattarelli paraphrased, “Gov. Murphy said if taxes are your issue, New Jersey isn’t the state for you. I say if taxes are your issue Phil Murphy isn’t the governor for you.”
Ciattarelli reminded the crowd that, from Florio to Corzine, New Jersey has not given a Democratic governor a second term.
“One and done in 21” is the slogan he threw out, and the crowd of hundreds picked it up and chanted it over and over again.
"Phil Murphy doesn't get it," Ciattarelli said. “Maybe it's because he's not from New Jersey, maybe it's because he doesn't understand New Jersey but the bottom line is this, he is not New Jersey. My story is a New Jersey story”
New Jersey Democratic State Committee Vice Chair Peg Schaffer released a statement following the announcement, saying, “Jack Ciattarelli is a Republican political insider who fully supported Chris Christie’s disastrous agenda while he was in Trenton. That is the exact opposite of the kind of leader New Jerseyans want.”
Acknowledging that it’s still 651 days to the election, Ciattarelli said he learned from his last bid for the gubernatorial nomination that it’s never too early.
“I’ve been ready for this since Phil Murphy was sworn in two years ago,” he said.
Ciattarelli, 58, went back to his roots in Raritan for the announcement, where a standing room only crowd of supporters packed the John F. Kennedy Primary School he had attended himself to hear his official announcement. He was introduced by Al Gaburo, the Somerset County Republican Chairman, and surrounded by his wife, Melinda, and their four grown children.
He was first elected to public office in 1989 after graduating from Seton Hall. He served as a Raritan Borough councilman and council president, then as a Somerset County Freeholder. In 2011, he ran for the State Assembly, where he served three terms.
In 2017, Ciattarelli unsuccessfully challenged former lieutenant governor Kim Guadagno for the Republican nomination, along with three other hopefuls.
He likely won’t be alone in his bid for the nomination this time either. At least two other Republicans are also rumored to be considering throwing their hats into the ring, including State Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick and State Republican Party Chairman Doug Steinhardt.
There is also a potential challenger to Murphy within his party for the Democratic nomination.