By Dennis “DJ” Mikolay
For a short while, it was good to be Senator Barbara Buono. As the New Jersey Democratic Party’s gubernatorial front-runner, the proverbial “Anti-Christie” campaign drew the attention of the media, both statewide and national, and garnered the blessing of numerous party bosses. Because she was essentially a pre-anointed candidate, Buono faced little internal resistance; the lack of an alternative meant she was not required to provide substantive elaboration regarding her platform or goals. The logistics of how (or even if) she would combat the state’s unforgivably high property taxes or the legislature’s decline into self-serving incompetence was never divulged; she could merely boast she wasn’t the incumbent. Those in her party had nowhere else to go.
Masked behind the typical partisan slogans and shallow one-liners, Buono’s lack of clarity came at voters’ expense. Though they may not have realized it just yet, her administration would mean four years of higher taxes and politics as usual, a price tag most residents simply can’t afford. For a time, the tactic of remaining silent worked. It seemed she would merely coast her way to the nomination unquestioned and unopposed, then trudge forward towards near-certain defeat in November. Though enthusiasm outside the establishment was nearly non-existent, Buono was a safe bet for the party hierarchy, someone who could be trusted not to stray from their talking points.
However, it is possible a wrench has been thrown into the Democratic machine, an unpredicted road-block that could prove a major setback for Buono and her supporters. Carl Bergmanson, the former Mayor of Glen Ridge, has entered the Democratic primaries, providing voters with a qualified alternative to the pre-selected torchbearer. If Bergmanson, a fiscally conservative advocate of property tax reform, is allowed to debate the front-runner, his candidacy could prove a real game-changer.
“I could not in good conscience standby and do nothing,” said Bergmanson, who was a vocal critic of former Governor Jon Corzine, going so far as to try and recall him from office. Now, fearful his party’s lack of commitment regarding property tax alleviation would spell disaster for the state, the independent-minded former mayor decided to enter the gubernatorial race, anxious to call Buono out on her lack of commitment.
“We need someone who will do whatever it takes to fix the property tax problem,” said Bergmanson. “If that means shutting down state government, then that’s what’s going to happen. People say that sounds draconian, but the taxes we are using to drive people out of their homes and out of this state are awfully draconian!”
Bergmanson doesn’t mind straying from the Democratic Party’s talking points; actually, he has fully discarded them. He addresses numerous issues he feels have been ignored or mistreated by lawmakers, including school funding; most Democrats are unwilling to even acknowledge the need for widespread reforms. Bergmanson, however, has long believed there are solutions, just not elected officials who are willing to implement them.
“This is a solvable problem,” he said. “Virtually every other state does a better job at funding schools than we do…we could take any of those examples and be better off, but someone has to be willing to say this is going to get done, come Hell or high water!”
On several prominent issues, Bergmanson shares his views with the majority of the public. He hopes to decriminalize marijuana, allow for full marriage equality, and permit initiative and referendum, as many other states do. How would Barbara Buono, a mirror image of Jon Corzine, respond to these policies? While it would be very interesting to see, the voters may never have that opportunity. These issues are unlikely to be addressed if Bergmanson isn’t allowed to debate Buono, a distinct possibility if he fails to raise a sufficient amount of funds in the coming weeks.
“If [voters] want to see her defend her lack of record and actually have a debate, there is a way to make that happen,” said Bergmanson. “If Barbara Buono accepts public money, which she already has, and I can get to the $380,000 threshold, by law she has to debate me. Morally she should debate me anyway…but Buono probably won’t unless she’s forced to.”
Bergmanson knows he has an up-hill battle, though if he is allowed to debate Barbara Buono, the floor may fall out beneath the Democratic front-runner during her climb towards the nomination. Whether she would be able to hoist herself back to the top is unclear.
“I want a better New Jersey in which to live,” said Bergmanson. “That’s not Democratic or Republican—it’s New Jersey!”
For more information, visit www.bergmansonforgovernor.com.