The Final Round: Ciattarelli and New Jersey Racial Politics


Traditionally, Columbus Day, celebrated this Monday, October 11, 2021, marks the start of the last round of the governors’ campaign. This year, a debate will take place the day after Columbus Day between incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Murphy and his Republican challenger, former Assembly Member Jack Ciattarelli. As the candidates approach the final round, two political demographic considerations determine the end result.

The first demographic consideration is the overwhelming percentage of Democratic voters supporting Phil Murphy, around 90 percent in both Monmouth Poll, the gold standard of New Jersey polls, and the Stockton University survey, who is rapidly climbing in stature in the Nate Silver rankings in the polls.

There are currently one million more registered Democrats than Republicans in New Jersey. As long as Murphy maintains that lead among Democrats, it’s numerically impossible for Ciattarelli to win, regardless of how the GOP challenger performs among Republicans and Independents.

The second demographic consideration is Ciattarelli’s utter inability to win the support of African American voters. Among that constituency, he trails Murphy 87-4 in the Monmouth poll and 73-7 in the Stockton poll.

The message of these two polls is clear: For Jack Ciattarelli to become competitive with Phil Murphy in the final days of the campaign, he will need to garner the support of a massive number of white Democratic voters. He has no hope of gaining increased support from black Democrats, who have suffered for four years from Trump’s racism and will never support Trump supporter Jack Ciattarelli, especially after learning he spoke at the time. of a Trumpist Stop-the-Steal rally.

So the question is: what will Ciattarelli’s particular message be to white Democratic voters in New Jersey?

Jack Ciattarelli is neither racist nor fanatic. He will not attempt to foment or stir up anti-African American hatred among white New Jersey Democrats. He’s not a 21st century version of Tony Imperiale.

But Jack Ciattarelli is well aware that among working-class white Democrats in New Jersey, there are many who, without being racist themselves, harbor racially motivated grievances and resentments, based on their perception that African Americans receive and may continue to receive unjustified special assistance. Forms of such “special assistance” include increased academic assistance, teaching critical race theory (CRT) in the public school system, and affirmative action assistance for African Americans in research. a job in the private sector.

White Democrats harboring racial grievances and resentments are a definite minority among all White Democratic voters. My personal view is that these perceptions are inaccurate, resulting from a lack of knowledge about the number of serious obstacles that prevent African Americans from achieving their American dream.

I also don’t think there are a sufficient number of racially hateful white New Jersey Democrats to tip the election to Jack Ciattarelli. Yet after watching the Murphy-Ciattarelli debate on September 28 and listening to Ciattarelli’s appearance on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC-AM radio on September 29, I have no doubt that it is the White Democrats who are the center of attention and calls for Jack Ciattarelli.

There is a danger to the body politic in Ciattarelli’s message to these voters. These appeals consist of the same Trumpist rhetoric that Republican candidates use to appeal to voters at the Trumpist base.

And such rhetoric has the ultimate effect of racially polarizing the people of New Jersey, making it all the more difficult for Jack to govern effectively in the highly unlikely event of a Ciattarelli upheaval.

There are four recent examples of Ciattarelli’s rhetoric and / or racially polarized positions that stand out in this regard.

The first was Ciattarelli’s opposition to critical race theory as he put it during the debate on September 28, as he amplified it after the debate as follows:

“I don’t think we should be teaching students that whites perpetuate systemic racism or that the white student is the oppressor or that the black and brown student is the oppressed.”

Unfortunately, with this statement, Ciattarelli openly denies the essential truth about black-white relations in America. And as Phil Murphy noted in response to his statement, we shouldn’t be afraid to teach our offspring the truth about race in America. The governor’s response, as follows, was one of the highlights of his campaign:

“…. with all my heart we must teach our children all the truth and nothing but the truth… You must teach the whole truth and nothing but the truth including about slavery, oppression, racism in the history of our country.

On the issue of Critical Race Theory, Murphy has chosen to take the high road, while Ciattarelli opts for the low road. In New Jersey, the highway usually wins.

Ciattarelli’s following assertion regarding racially motivated grievances was an innuendo he made in response to a comment by Brian Lehrer regarding the enormous economic inequalities faced by Americans of color. Lehrer’s comment was as follows:

… The median wealth of a white family in New Jersey is around $ 352,000. For a black family in New Jersey $ 6,000 and $ 7,000 for Latinos. 80% of white families in the state had their own homes, only 40% of blacks and Latinos. Newark, Camden and Paterson rank among the poorest cities in America.

Ciattarelli’s response was as follows:

If you go back 100 years, those same statistics could have been applied to Italian immigrants, Polish immigrants, Jewish immigrants, all of whom came to the United States.

Now I find this statement by Ciattarelli to be an offensive innuendo and rephrasing of the following words that I have often heard during my childhood and adolescence from Jews of my parents’ generation (but not from my parents themselves- same):

“We did – why can’t they (African Americans)? “

I am a Jewish activist, proud of my heritage, and dedicated to the fight against anti-Semitism wherever it may exist and as virulent as it is. One of my proudest accomplishments in my government / political career was developing the New Jersey Holocaust Education Act while I was Senior Policy Advisor to the Republican Assembly in 1993.

But when it comes to America, the difficulties faced by African Americans have always been far worse than those faced by Jews. My grandparents and great-grandparents came to America of their own free will, and although they faced discrimination, it was nothing compared to that faced by African Americans, who came 250 years older. early, as slaves and in chains.

Preserving and strengthening the African-American-Jewish alliance is a top priority in my personal and political life. The Ciattarelli innuendo makes my job more difficult.

The most notable Ciattarelli initiative with an implicit, if not explicit, message to racially-aggrieved white Democratic voters is its property tax / education funding proposal. This measure, despite Ciattarelli’s denials, has the undeniable impact of granting more real estate tax breaks to suburban whites at the expense of African-American city dwellers.

In the remaining few weeks of the campaign, this is perhaps the most racially polarizing issue. The irony is that, based on the New Jersey Supreme Court decision in Abbott v. Burke, this Ciattarelli proposal can be ruled unconstitutional.

The last controversy that arose during Ciattarelli’s appearance on the Brian Lehrer Show was his reluctance to answer the host’s question regarding Jack’s definition of “white privilege.” “White privilege: unpacking the invisible backpack.

While Ciattarelli refused to answer the “white privilege” question, her running mate Diane Allen gave an excellent answer in his lieutenant-governor’s debate with incumbent Sheila Oliver, as following:

“I guess white privilege is the fact that for a lot of people who are white, we are able to accomplish things and do things thinking that we are doing it on our own, when in fact can -being that we do it because we are given a little leeway because of our color. Most of us are probably not aware of this.

Allen added that children should learn more about slavery and the history of the nation, but it should be done in a way that brings people together.

It is an essential mission of any governor of New Jersey to confront basic racial issues and sociology when taking the oath. Jack Ciattarelli’s refusal to answer the white privilege question indicates that he is not ready or able to deal with the state’s persistent race issues. On the other hand, Diane Allen, by her response, shows availability and great competence in this regard, qualities almost impossible to find in a Republican candidate from New Jersey in the era of Trumpism.

Alan J. Steinberg served as EPA Region 2 Regional Administrator during the administration of former President George W. Bush and Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.

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