Local residents got up close and personal Thursday evening with Tenafly Councilman Mark Zinna and small business owner Lisa McCormick, two Democrats who are hoping to win their party’s nomination for governor of New Jersey.
Zinna and McCormick addressed a crowd of about 60 people at Above Restaurant and Bar in South Orange as part of a Meet the Governor Candidates Forum sponsored by SOMADEMS.
“We were hoping to give Mark Zinna and Lisa McCormick the opportunity to address the South Orange and Maplewood communities as we believe that all candidates should have the chance to get their points across,” said SOMADEMS Co-Founder Larry Hirsch. “I thought it was a very informative discussion of the issues.”
Zinna, who has served on the Tenafly City Council for six years, told residents that he is running for governor because he was disappointed in the 2016 presidential election. “I decided that I couldn’t stand by and just yell at the television,” he said “I needed to continue with public service in a stronger and deeper way.”
He said that his experience on the Tenafly City Council would help him manage the state because he knows what it’s like to live in the real world.
“We don’t have an unlimited pot of gold. We don’t borrow money recklessly. We have to pay our bills and balance our budgets,” he said. “We pave roads, we pay police officers, we figure out how to hire people, and how to make decisions that affect everyday people’s lives.”
Zinna said that when there are potholes in his town, his constituents call him directly. “I’m very sensitive about people paying lots of taxes and not being happy with their services,” he said. “As your governor, I would be extremely sensitive.”
Zinna said that as governor he would, among other things, spend more on public transportation, encourage municipal consolidation, fully fund the current school funding formula, implement a system for college students to borrow tuition money interest-fee, and create a single-payer health care system for all residents of New Jersey.
McCormick told the crowd that she also decided to run after being upset at the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
“I’m watching TV like the rest of us and I see Donald Trump as the nominee and I think, there has to be a better candidate,” McCormick said, explaining that when it came time to choose a new governor in New Jersey, she felt the same way. “I was not inspired by any of the candidates. I was looking for someone who I could endorse and I could vote for and I didn’t see anybody.”
McCormick said she is running to give people a choice.
“I’m not one of those people who put $13 million dollars in my own campaign,” she said. “I’m not one of the typical candidates. In fact, I come here tonight and I think, how can I compete? I’m not that polished of a speaker. I just feel like, you know, I’m just a regular person, like all of you.”
McCormick said that as governor she would work to improve health care, transportation and the economy.
Ajiya Doka, 20, a Seton Hall junior and president of the Seton Hall College Democrats, moderated the event. Doka, of Rockville, Md., is also program director for the College Democrats of New Jersey (CDNJ) and youth coordinator for SOMADEMS.
“I thought it went really well,” Doka said. “It was great for these candidates to come and share their vision for New Jersey.”
New Jersey state Sen. Ray Lesniak was invited to Thursdays’ forum but did not attend.
Thursday night’s forum was the second in a series that the group has planned to give South Orange and Maplewood residents a chance to meet the Democratic candidates for governor.
SOMADEMS’ first Meet the Governor Candidates Forum on March 2nd featured New Jersey state Assemblyman John Wisniewski and former assistant U.S. Treasury Secretary Jim Johnson, and drew more than 250 people to the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC).
A third Meet the Governor Candidates Forum scheduled for April 25 at the Woodland in Maplewood will feature former U.S. ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy and retired firefighter Bill Brennan.
“Part of SOMADEMS’ mission is to inform the people who live here about the important elections and issues affecting our community,” SOMADEMS Co-Founder Hirsch said. “Bringing these candidates here allows our residents to learn about and make an informed decision when they go to vote.”
New Jersey’s primary election for the governor’s race is June 6 and the general election is Nov. 7. Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, is term-limited and can’t run for a third term. The state’s gubernatorial election will be one of the first major elections nationwide since the 2016 presidential election and many Democrats see it as an opportunity to send a strong message about what they think of the Trump administration.
SOMADEMS, which stands for South Orange and Maplewood Democrats, is a grassroots political group that was started to support Democratic candidates and progressive issues important to the towns of South Orange and Maplewood on the local, state and federal level. The group includes more than 1,300 politically active residents. It’s one of a growing number of local political groups that have sprung up in the last year to harness a sharp increase in political activism.