How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

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

Opinion: Sen. Buono's campaign to unseat Gov. Christie should have keyed on widening poverty gap

Liberal Bill de Blasio came from way back to win a multi-candidate primary for mayor of New York City and he is now the clear favorite to defeat Republican Joe Lhota in November. In New Jersey, liberal Sen. Barbara Buono is facing a drubbing of historic proportions by Gov. Chris Christie.

There are many reasons why Sen. Buono has not been able to accomplish in a blue state what de Blasio has been able to accomplish in a blue city. First, Buono is running against a force of nature with a unique ability to connect with folks at the grass-roots level. Gov. Christie’s empathetic interactions with shore residents following Hurricane Sandy served to reinforce that beneath his tough exterior is a truly compassionate person.

Second, Christie continues to be the darling of the national media, who consistently fawn over his “take me as I am or leave me” in-your-face style. He is consistently depicted as a unique politician who will cross the aisle to compromise. He is reinforcing that image in his television advertisements, which highlight his “bipartisanship” and note that he believes “compromise isn’t a dirty word.”

The fact that the compromise is built on a nefarious alliance between Christie and South Jersey Democratic power broker George Norcross and his cronies is hardly ever mentioned. Instead, the national press has focused on his interchanges with President Obama in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. They never speak about his inability to forge a compromise with Democrats to fill the vacancies on the state’s Supreme Court or to reduce his rhetoric, temper his tantrums or refrain from name-calling, i.e. labeling those he disagrees with “stupid” or “an idiot” or as “entitled moneygrubbers who considered themselves above the law.”

The third reason that Buono has not been able to narrow Christie’s commanding lead is that her campaign has lacked a central embracing theme which, in de Blasio’s case, was reducing income inequality. His signature proposal was a slight tax hike on incomes of the super-wealthy to pay for universal, full-day, citywide pre-kindergarten classes and after-school programs as a means of reducing inequality. He pointed out that his proposed tax increase would affect only those whose income is greater than $500,000 and that it would not result in their having to cancel their vacation or move out of the city.

De Blasio never deviated from the campaign’s central theme that inequality had grown dramatically in New York City under Mayor Bloomberg’s three terms and that addressing inequality was “the most urgent priority of our time.” In his address “A Foundation for Greatness,” he spoke eloquently about the city’s growing income inequity: “I’ve spoken of New York becoming a Tale of Two Cities – one that’s working quite well for our city’s elite, but one that’s forgotten millions of everyday New Yorkers. Without … an economic policy that combats inequality and rebuilds our middle class, generations to come will see New York as little more than a playground for the rich… a gilded city where the privileged few prosper.”

The Buono campaign has talked about Christie’s failed economic policies. She has repeatedly noted that the governor has preserved tax cuts for the rich while increasing taxes on working families, increased tuition at state colleges and property taxes, vetoed minimum-wage increases, failed to address New Jersey’s continuing high unemployment rate and allowed urban schools to crumble; but unlike de Blasio, until the debates, she had not been able to bundle issues together into a common central theme.

Recently, the detrimental consequences of the governor’s policies were revealed in a study by the Legal Services of New Jersey Poverty Research Institute, which highlighted the widening gap between the rich and the poor in New Jersey and the fact that one-quarter of New Jerseyans — 2.1 million people — are living in poverty, the highest rate in 50 years. The findings clearly indicate that the governor’s policies are unfair and are increasing income inequality in New Jersey.

This should have been the theme of the Buono campaign. From the get-go, she should have been pounding home the notion that Christie’s agenda has dramatically increased the number of New Jerseyans struggling to meet their basic needs as the income of those earning more than $1 million annually has grown dramatically. She should be pointing out that Christie has balanced the state’s budget, but not balanced the burden equitably. Likewise, she should be emphasizing that her goal is not income redistribution, but rather to increase the income of more than just those at the top of the economic ladder.

Instead of worrying about being labeled a “free-spending liberal” in a blue state, Buono should have made it clear that her pro-union, pro-gay marriage, pro-millionaire’s tax, pro-minimum-wage stands were all about basic fairness and that there is something terribly wrong with our governor’s trickle-down policies that result in prosperity for only the wealthiest New Jerseyans.

Buono should have embraced what Franklin Roosevelt said: “The test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”