How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

2016 Democratic race for governor of N.J.

In 2013, none of the state Democratic Party's bigwigs was willing to challenge Gov. Chris Christie, who was riding high in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. The iconic image of Gov. Chris Christie walking the beaches of New Jersey with President Barack Obama served to reinforce the myth that he was a leader willing to collaborate with politicians of the other major political party at a time when the country was frustrated by the deadlock in Washington, D.C.

It fell to a little-known Middlesex County state senator, Barbara Buono, to run against him. She was badly defeated in a race in which she was sandbagged by her own party's leadership. In a bitter concession speech, she lambasted "old boy machine politics" and "a system where backroom deals fueled with greed and self-interest are just the order of business.... The Democratic political bosses, some elected [and] some not, made a deal with this governor despite him representing almost everything they're against. They didn't do it for the state. They did it to help themselves politically and financially." While Buono didn't mention names, she was no doubt referring to New Jersey political boss George Norcross and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo.

In 2016, facing a much clearer potential pathway to the governorship, there are seven leading potential Democratic candidates. They include: state Sen. and former acting Gov. Richard Codey; Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop; Assemblyman Lou Greenwald; State Sen. Raymond Lesniak; former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy; state Senate President and labor union organizer Stephen Sweeney, and Assemblyman and Bernie Sanders' New Jersey presidential campaign chairman John Wisniewski.

With such a large candidate pool, you'd think the Democrats would have lots of enticing options. Not the case. I would rule out some Democratic candidates because they are joined at the hip to George Norcross (Sen. Sweeney and Assemblyman Greenwald). There are various candidates I like but have specific concerns about: Fulop (his role in allowing former Gov. James McGreevey to receive lifetime benefits for a four-month stint on the county payroll), Codey (he's become the Mario Cuomo of New Jersey politics — you never know if he's really running), Murphy (an article on NJ.com described him as "a deep-pocketed Democratic donor and former Goldman Sachs executive" — do we really need another Jon Corzine clone?), Lesniak (he has all the pluses and minuses of a long-time progressive powerbroker) and Wisniewski (can he make up for his weak geographic base with Sanders' supporters statewide?).

I'm looking for a candidate who will seriously consider the economic unraveling that has occurred during Gov. Christie's tenure — growing income inequality and an increasing number of New Jersey residents struggling to make ends meet — and develop policy solutions that address the drivers of inequality, i.e., an inequitable tax system and a public education system that is not working for hundreds of thousands of children in our state.

I want specific answers to the following questions from the candidates:

1) How will you reduce New Jersey's property taxes, the highest in the nation? If you believe it is not a taxing question, but rather a spending question, tell me specifically what programs/services you would cut. If you favor imposing alternative, less regressive taxes, specify what they are and what the taxing level would be.

2) If you are unable to reduce property taxes in the state by at least 20 percent during your first two years in office, would you agree to a public referendum that would approve electing representatives to a tax convention which would have the power to mandate changes to reduce our state's overreliance on property taxes as a means of funding vitally needed government services?

3) What is your plan for improving urban education in New Jersey?

4) How will you address the state's pension crisis? No general answers that you will reduce inefficiencies, cut outdated programs, cut waste and do zero-based budgeting. I want to know the specifics of your plan, i.e., how much more will public employees have to pay vs. how much more would taxpayers have to shell out? Would you favor a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the state makes full annual pension payments?

5) What would you specifically do to help jump-start the economic revitalization of our state's capital city, e.g., subsidize the annual operations of the Trenton War Memorial, make annual in-lieu-of-tax payments for the vast amount of land the state occupies and pays no taxes on and/or support a state-subsidized low-income loan program for low-wage state workers who currently live outside of Trenton to take over abandoned properties in the city?

According to the U.S. Census, we are one of only three states where poverty is on the upswing and we have the highest percentage of working-age adults in the nation still grappling with long-term unemployment. Further, the state faces a multibillion-dollar deficit as well as bond-rating, pension, middle-class and property-tax crises. We desperately need a governor who is prepared to make extremely difficult decisions based on the abiding principle that the financial pain should be shared equitably based on one's ability to bear the burden.