Democratic candidates forum starts with withdrawal

Photo by Jenny Goldberg
Democrats vying for the Democratic nomination to oppose incumbent Leonard Lance for his seat from New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District debated at Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield on Feb. 7. From left, Linda Weber, Scott Salmon, David Pringle, Lisa Mandelblatt, Tom Malinowski, Goutam Jois and Peter Jacob.

SPRINGFIELD, NJ — The Democrat who had outraised her closest opponent by more than $130,000 in a bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance with $300,000 of her own money withdrew as she faced six foes in her party’s candidates forum on Feb. 7.

Springfield native and Westfield resident Lisa Mandelbatt took the microphone as the fifth of seven hopefuls for her opening remarks at Jonathan Dayton High School, then proceeded to speak for four minutes beyond her allotted two minutes.

When moderator Saily Avelenda alerted her that her time had expired and prompted her to relinquish the microphone, Mandelblatt replied, “You are going to want to let me finish,” as boos welled up from the crowd.

Mandelblatt continued despite the jeers, announcing her withdrawal and endorsement of Tom Malinowksi.
“I have heard, in forum after forum, Tom state his eagerness to stand up for progressive values in Washington and to fight for women,” she said. “It is time to put changing our country over my own candidacy, and do what is best for a shared goal in November.”

“There is nothing more important than beating (Lance) in November and I will do everything I can on behalf of Tom, or whoever it may be, to do so.”

It was a bizarre start for the debate, which featured all of declared candidates for the Democratic nomination for the state’s 7th Congressional District who are seeking to oust Lance. The New Jersey primary is scheduled for June 5.

Lance, 65, a Republican, has occupied the seat since 2008. In 2012, the area was redistricted, pushed north and absorbed more reliably conservative territories in Morris, Warren and Hunterdon counties.

In 2016, Lance won the district by almost 38,000 votes, and in the November gubernatorial election, Republican Kim Guadagno won the district by almost 15,000 votes.

“Leonard Lance fits this congressional district to a ‘T’,” his campaign manager Jim Hilk told LocalSource in a recent email. “His fiscal conservative views, bipartisan successes and outstanding constituent services are just a few reasons why voters have consistently re-elected Leonard Lance overwhelmingly.”

Although the boundaries have changed via redistricting during the past century, since 1914, a Republican has represented the 7th district for all but the six years between 1975 and 1981.

But claiming they sense an anti-President Trump sentiment, Democrats in the state believe several districts are vulnerable and have targeted Lance and fellow Republican incumbent Rodney Frelinghuysen of the 11th Congressional District, who announced his retirement in January.
With Mandelblatt out of the running, the 53-year-old Malinowski, of Rocky Hill near Princeton, appears to be in the strongest position of the remaining six candidates.

According to Federal Election Commission filings, Malinowski had raised $528,471 in his latest report, more than $130,000 behind Mandelblatt but tops among the remaining contenders: David Pringle, 52, of Cranford; Peter Jacob, 32, of Union; Goutam Jois, 36, of Summit; Scott Salmon, 27, of Scotch Plains; and Linda Weber, 54, of Berkeley Heights.

From prescription drug affordability and stabilizing health care to public health problems such as opioid addiction and obesity, the candidates were asked to share which health care issue they would prioritize.

Salmon, a litigator, focused on stabilizing the price of health care through the expansion of Medicare to anyone that wants it.
“Since 1976, adjusting for inflation, the cost of health care has gone up by 214 percent,” he said.

Opening Medicare to the general public, rather than only those 65 and older, would force private care to actually compete, Salmon said.
“They (private insurers) will have to reduce waste and inefficiency if they want to survive,” he said.

“Medicare currently operates at 2 percent overhead. Ninety-eight percent of the money actually goes toward benefits, while private careers operate at 13 percent. “That goes to every commercial you see, and CEO pay,” Salmon said.
Malinowski, who served as assistant secretary of state under former President Barack Obama, noted the severity of opioid addiction in New Jersey, with 2,000 deaths in 2016, and stressed the importance of women’s access to contraceptive care. However, he said the most urgent step is to finance the subsidies so that lower-income residents can still get affordable health care under the Affordable Care Act.

Jois, an attorney, noted that coverage through the ACA is important because that is how prices are brought down.
“The ACA expanded access to reproductive and women’s health care,” he said. “By expanding access to the ACA, it will affect all the other issues,” such as drug affordability.

Weber, who has worked for 30 years in technology and banking, demanded federally provided health insurance, but noted that if it comes down to compromise, it won’t be “on principle, but implementation.”
“This is about actually getting something done,” she said.

Jacob, who is a licensed social worker, declared that health care is a human right and also said the answer is in expanding and improving Medicare.

“It is the vision of the Democratic party,” he said. “A public option was buried eight years ago, and that is where we need to leave it.”
Jacob highlighted the need to pass Medicare for a single-payer system and change the eligibility age to birth. He also described a transition phase that would be necessary in order to mitigate the shock to the economy.

Pringle, a community organizer for New Jersey Clean Water Action campaigns, at first focused on all topics but, when pressed to choose one, he focused on preventative health care.

“The best health care, is health care you don’t need,” he said, and “Planned Parenthood funding is a great example of that.”
Pringle discussed his previous legislative experience and underscored his fight for Planned Parenthood funding after it was cut by former Gov. Chris Christie.

“I know people who have personally benefited from it and have had Planned Parenthood as their primary health care provider,” he said.