The Woman Running Against Chris Christie

NJ Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono says she's not 'one of the boys.'
October 10, 2013

By Melissa Hayes

Two top Democrats have created an "outwardly hostile" element inside the party, a situation that has kept Barbara Buono from pitching her vision for New Jersey to a wide audience, the Democratic candidate for governor said Thursday.

"The overarching premise of my plan would be to benefit the middle class, the working poor, and not have everything be at their expense like this governor. And it would make public education a priority once again and not a whipping boy, and it would ensure as a priority that average families see some of that property tax relief," Buono said in a meeting with The Record's editorial board. "It's a vision."

Buono is 29 points behind Gov. Chris Christie among likely voters in a Quinnipiac Poll released Thursday and she faces a huge fundraising deficit _ one that has kept her from responding on television to the negative ads Christie has aired.

She blamed Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, an influential Democrat who has endorsed Christie, and George Norcross, a Camden County Democratic powerbroker, who hasn't endorsed the governor but fought Buono on her selection for state party chairman, for her lack of support within her own party. Christie has picked up the support of 49 elected Democrats.

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From the moment she launched her campaign, Buono worked to distance herself from party leaders. In a video announcing her candidacy in December she said, "I won't be anointed by the political bosses."

Earlier this year, party leadership refused to support her choice, Assemblyman Jason O'Donnell, for state party chairman, a decision traditionally left to the party's gubernatorial candidate. She blamed Norcross for "creating chaos."

"It became about me dividing the party instead of them controlling the party chair, so I took one for the team," she said about compromising on the selection of Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie.

Norcross did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Buono said she wasn't using the lack of Democratic support as an excuse, but added that it's a reality.

"I think that if somebody is going to break barriers, if someone is going to change the status quo, that this is what happens and we haven't seen that in New Jersey in a while," she said. "But you should recognize that that's the kind of candidate I am."

She said she didn't want DiVincenzo's support and said she's not surprised he backed Christie, who she said is collecting the endorsements to take advantage of the party machine.

DiVincenzo said he's supporting Christie because of what he's accomplished working with Democrats during his first term, placing a cap on local property tax increases and requiring employees to pay more for their pensions and benefits.

"I think it was the right thing to do and I think it sends a strong message of bipartisanship," he said. "The things that were accomplished over the last four years wasn't just Chris Christie, it was also Democrats."

Buono said that as she travels the state sharing her ideas, voters get excited about her candidacy. But her biggest challenge has been reaching a broad audience. Christie, who has raised $10.5 million more in private donations and public matching funds, has already aired two negative television ads in the general election cycle, trying to portray Buono as obsessed with raising taxes.

She said she plans to get on television soon, but that her campaign has also been running an aggressive social media effort.

"We have been on a grass-roots level, been very effective and no we don't have the resources," she said. "This is a gubernatorial candidacy that is like no other on many levels. As you know we don't have the support of the party bosses. I'm not one of the boys. I never have been."

Buono says voters shouldn't write her off. She said she would be a champion for the middle class and working poor, starting with improving public schools and access to a college education.

"This governor called preschool glorified baby sitting," she said. "We couldn't differ more. His whole philosophy of public schools, the fact that he wants to drain more money into private and parochial school vouchers, is so misguided. It's just shocking. To me it reflects his belief that public schools aren't worth fixing."

Christie has argued that providing parents of children in failing urban districts with vouchers for private and parochial schools would create competition and force the public schools to improve.

But Buono said draining money from the public schools is not a solution. She wants to invest in students by giving them a good foundation. That's why she's advocating for universal preschool and full-day kindergarten.

Buono said just as important as addressing education is creating jobs and improving the state's economy.

The state senator said she would reinstate an income tax surcharge on millionaires to fund middle-class property tax relief.

She derided Christie for cutting a property tax rebate for homeowners and scaling back the Earned Income Tax Credit program for the working poor, pledging to restore both if elected. She said she would reinstate funding for the state commission created to give municipalities guidance on sharing services and consolidating, something that could help lower property taxes.

(c)2013 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)

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