BRIDGEWATER, NJ – GOP gubernatorial candidate and state Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli minced no words when he greeted hundreds of supporters at his kick-off reception Thursday night, just two weeks after a Statehouse press conference where he announced that he was undergoing radiation and recovering from a Nov. 15 operation for throat cancer.
Standing behind the podium in the ballroom at the Somerville Elks, with his wife Melinda and other lawmakers behind him, Ciattarelli scanned the room, picked up the microphone and said:
“Screw the cancer.”
He told the crowd that he’s been drawing strength from the well wishes, letters and cards of encouragement that have come his way since the announcement, saying it was the “best medicine” he could receive.
“I’m more determined than ever that I will beat the cancer,” he said.
Doctors have given Ciattarelli a positive prognosis; cancerous lymph nodes were removed during the operation, and a full body scan detected no other signs of cancer.
Ciattarelli had said he would be forced to modify his campaign schedule and miss some scheduled events through mid-February because of the expected side effects from the radiation.
But there was no sign of that Thursday night.
Shifting gears with the aplomb of a veteran diplomat or seasoned stand-up comic, Ciattarelli had some fun at his own expense, joking about the diagnosis and subsequent radiation treatments.
When doctors gave him the results of his initial tests, Ciattarelli said he told them, “I can’t have cancer, I’m running for governor.”
The 55-year-old state Assemblyman was eager to show he is up for the medical and political challenges ahead.
“Twenty-two down and eight to go,” he said, referring to the number of radiation sessions yet to complete.
“We all need chicken soup, and she’s mine,” Ciattarelli said when he introduced his wife of 24 years.
Joining Ciattarelli on stage were former Assemblywoman Donna Simon, who represented the 16th legislative district with Ciattarelli for four years before losing re-election in 2015; Hunterdon County Freeholder Director John Lanza; Somerset County Freeholder Mark Caliguire, state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman; Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, (R-39th), and Assemblyman John DiMaio, (R-23rd).
They offered their endorsements of Ciattarelli’s bid in the June 6th GOP primary. His major opponent is Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who has served alongside Gov. Chris Christie for seven years.
“He needs to be our candidate; he needs to be our governor,” Caliguire said.
“This is the guy who should be governor,” Simon said.
On Wednesday, Ciattarelli challenged Guadagno to a series of debates in all of New Jersey’s 21 counties.
Their expected Democrat opponent in the November election is Wall Street financier Peter Murphy.
Earlier in the day, Simon, Caliguire and Bateman kicked off their campaign to represent the 16th district. Simon will attempt to regain her seat, now held by Democrat Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker. Caliguire will run for Ciattarelli’s seat, and Batemen will run for re-election in the Senate.
Ciattarelli’s campaign is based on the need for change, dumping the status quo, and a practical approach to the state’s ongoing financial crisis.
A graduate of Seton Hall University with degrees in accounting, Ciattarelli is a CPA and owns two businesses. He has been traveling throughout the state since last summer detailing his five-point plan to tackle the state’s fiscal woes.
Ciattarelli’s plan zeroes in on what he describes as an inequitable school funding formula, runaway property taxes, the public employee pension system, a reversal in downgrades of the state’s debt rating, improved communications between state agencies and departments and upgrades to the state government’s computer system, which is outdated by as much as 20 years, according to the candidate.
Ciattarelli advocates bi-annual meetings to include the governor, lieutenant governor, the state Assembly and state Senate and New Jersey’s 12 members of the House of Representatives and two US Senators in an effort to do what is best for New Jersey by pooling their resources and expertise.
Ciattarelli said he is anxious to introduce his style of “can do” leadership to help reverse a long list of negatives that have become synonymous with New Jersey:
- The state ranks last in the amount of federal aid received from Washington;
- The state ranks first in the number of people that are leaving to live elsewhere;
- New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation.
“Jack is going to be a great governor,” Bateman said. “He’s the only one who has a real plan; he cares about us. He’s going to get it done,” the veteran legislator added.