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Opinion: N.J. Senate 14th District race between Greenstein, Inverso raises age-old question

When is enough, enough? That is one of the questions raised by the candidacy of Peter Inverso for state Senate.

Almost everyone seems to acknowledge that Inverso is a good guy and a very talented person. He is well-regarded in both political and business circles. He had a 22-year career in government. From 1992 to 2008, he served in the New Jersey Senate, and from 1981 to 1983 and 1987 to 1989, he served on the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders. For the past 10 years, he served as president of Roma Federal Savings Bank, and before that, he was a partner in a leading central New Jersey accounting firm.

Inverso received his B.S. degree from Rider University in commerce and accounting and has an honorary doctorate of laws degree from The College of New Jersey. He has been honored by numerous community and charitable organizations and has been an active member of the board of trustees of a wide range of well-regarded nonprofit organizations. He is very civic-minded.

In November, he will attempt to retake his seat in the Senate. He will face incumbent Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) in the 14th District, which includes nine municipalities in Mercer and Middlesex counties, including Hamilton, Plainsboro, Robbinsville and East Windsor.

Greenstein, a former assemblywoman, won the Senate seat in a special election in 2010 over Tom Goodwin (an appointed incumbent) to complete the Senate term of Bill Baroni, who resigned to accept the position of deputy executive director at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. She then won re-election in 2011 over Hamilton school board member Richard Kanka.

Greenstein holds an A.B. degree from Vassar College, an M.A. from Johns Hopkins University and a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center. Prior to election to the New Jersey Assembly in 2000, she served on the Plainsboro Township Committee, and before that, she served on the West Windsor-Plainsboro Board of Education. She has served as a senior staff attorney with the Community Health Law Project and supervised the Public Interest Legal Clinic at Montclair State College.

Greenstein is widely acknowledged as an ethical, competent legislator who has sponsored measures related to public disclosure of hospital medical errors, paid leave for birth of a child or sick relative, open-space preservation and various senior citizen issues, among others. It is acknowledged in legislative circles that she works hard and takes her job very seriously.

Like Inverso, Greenstein has built strong ties with the various public employee unions, whose members include many Hamilton Township residents who work in state government. Throughout their legislative careers, they have both been supportive of public employees. Inverso was the prime sponsor of S2450, which changed the retirement age for many state employees from 60 to 55, resulting in a 9 percent increase in pension benefits for those who were affected.

Both are concerned, ethical lawmakers, although I have no doubt that, by the end of what promises to be a vicious campaign, each of them will tacitly or otherwise approve media efforts designed to besmirch the other’s well-earned reputation. Already, the Democrats have sent out over-the-top robocalls: “Remember former Sen. Peter Inverso? Hold onto your wallets. He’s back. The Trenton politician who raised the pensions of cops, teachers and firefighters is also a banker who made millions while sticking it to consumers. Now Inverso wants to finish the job on central New Jersey taxpayers. Stop Inverso once and for all by ‘liking’ Sen. Linda Greenstein on Facebook, a true champion for the middle class,” the message says. It was paid for by the New Jersey Senate Democratic Majority.

In 2007, at the age of 68, Inverso announced that he would not be seeking a sixth term in the Senate. Six years later, he’s announced his intention to seek the seat he gave up. I think his age will be a below-the-surface issue in the race; if he wins, he would be 78 at the end of his term. In fact, Sen. Inverso jokingly acknowledged that age will be a factor when he indicated in his announcement that “I guess I have to say my heroes are Millicent Fenwick and Frank Lautenberg,” referring to two New Jersey elected officials who made comebacks late in life.

When Frank Lautenberg, at 83, was contemplating his fifth term for the U.S. Senate in 2007, I urged him in a column in The Times to “step down and give someone else a chance to serve.” This situation is different. Running at 74 is different than running at 83, and the Republican Party in Mercer doesn’t have candidates waiting in the wings to challenge Greenstein. One way for Sen. Inverso to minimize the age factor in the campaign might be for him to set a two-term limit on how long he’d serve in the Legislature.

The good news is that both Peter Inverso and Linda Greenstein are qualified candidates. No matter who wins, the electorate in the 14th District will be ably represented.