Morristown Councilwoman Rebecca Feldman has nothing against Tennessee. She just doesn’t want to have to follow her parents there when she retires. And she hopes her two teenaged daughters don’t land there, either.
If elected to the New Jersey Assembly, she told supporters on Thursday, she will work to lower taxes, create jobs and improve education so that present and future generations can afford to stay in the Garden State.
She aims to do this as an Independent–in a heavily Republican 25th District that has sent just one Democrat to Trenton since 1975.
“I’m running as an Independent because I am an Independent…We know how to do this, we know how to win, and we’re going to win,” Rebecca told an intimate gathering at her campaign kickoff, a fundraiser staged beside a manmade waterfall in the leafy backyard of Angela Rieck and Jeff Reiner in Morris Township.
Victory would require displacing one of two Republican incumbents.
Michael Patrick Carroll, who has served in the Assembly for 18 years, describes himself as “New Jersey’s most conservative legislator.”
Anthony M. Bucco, the son of state Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-25th Dist.), has served since 2009. Both lawmakers are attorneys.
“We are proud of our service in the Assembly and our partnership with the Governor to deliver a 2 percent property tax cap, four balanced budgets without raising taxes on anyone, much needed pension and benefit reforms and a business climate that is delivering record job growth for New Jersey,” the Assemblymen said in a joint statement.
“We are confident that the voters of our district are proud of the work that we have done on their behalf to roll back the damage done by 15 years of Democratic majorities and when they are given the choice in November they will send us back with the Governor to finish the job.”
Another Independent, Jack Curtis of Mendham, also is running. No Democrats are on the November ballot. Rebecca figures she must raise $250,000 to win.
‘WE CAN’T CUT OUR WAY INTO GROWTH’
The councilwoman praised Gov. Christie and the Legislature for the 2 percent budget cap, and for changes to binding arbitration and a requirement that union members contribute toward their benefits, a stipulation she credits with saving Morristown taxpayers $300,000.
At the same time, however, property owners have lost their state rebates. The result, she said, is like an 18 percent tax increase.
And without investments in education, alternate transportation and infrastructure, the councilwoman said, major employers will leave New Jersey.
“We can’t cut our way into growth. You strip away, you strip away, you say we’re doing more with less, then we’re doing less with less. And then can we do anything at all?”
Morristown is a Democratic enclave in GOP-dominated Morris County, and Mayor Tim Dougherty and his wife, town Democratic Chairwoman Mary Dougherty, were among those who showed up for Rebecca’s kickoff.
But the candidate spent a good chunk of her 16-minute speech laying out her bipartisan credentials, and portraying herself as a fiscal conservative who happens to be progressive on social issues.
Rebecca’s first foray into politics was with a neighborhood association that lobbied to renovate a forgotten playground. That led to her appointment to the planning board by a Republican mayor, she said.
In 2005, she fielded an Independent mayoral candidate against a Democrat; her candidate lost but garnered 40 percent of the vote in a three-way race. Rebecca helped push successful referendums for an anti-pay-to-play ordinance and to twice overturn mayoral raises.
She defeated an incumbent Democrat for council in 2007 and won re-election in 2011 with more than 80 percent of the vote.
On the council, Rebecca reformed the process for appointments to municipal boards, and voted to eliminate health benefits for elected officials. Working with the Dougherty administration, she said, she has helped trim the town workforce by 10 percent while paring municipal debt by a third. She even opposed a solar panel installation as too costly, she said.
“We are in better financial shape than we’ve ever been,” said Rebecca, an industrial designer educated at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning.
The 25th District encompasses Morristown and Morris Township, along with Boonton, Boonton Township, Denville, Dover, Mine Hill , Mount Arlington, Mountain Lakes, Randolph, Rockaway Borough, Roxbury, Victory Gardens and Wharton in Morris County.
Jefferson and Rockaway Township were shifted to the 26th District in a redistricting two years ago; the solidly Republican towns of Chester, Chester Township, Mendham Township, Washington Township, and the Somerset County municipality of Bernardsville were added to the 25th.