PARAMUS – U.S. Representatives Steve Rothman and Bill Pascrell, who are in the middle of a Democratic primary fight to represent the newly transformed 9th District, came together for their first scheduled debate on the campus of Bergen Community College in Paramus tonight.
A handshake before the cameras turned on was the last time the two would exchange any sort of pleasantries during the heated debate.
Pascrell criticized Rothman for challenging him in the 9th District, instead of running against U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5).
“In 1996 I was asked to run against a Republican incumbent,” Pascrell said. “I didn’t hide under the desk…we won that election and we are going to win on June 5.”
The panelists asked Rothman why he didn’t challenge Garrett.
“I ran in my home district,” Rothman said. “I was born and raised in the 9th Congressional District.”
Rothman repeatedly called himself the “progressive champion” in the race, citing his record of being “the first to call for all of our troops to be withdrawn from Iraq,” and being the first to support Barack Obama for president during the 2008 presidential election.
But Pascrell countered by calling out Rothman for not challenging the Republican legislator.
“My opponent chose not to run in the district he was placed in, that’s pretty simple,” Pascrell said. “Instead, he chose to move into my district. That is not a very progressive move. That is not supporting the President of the United States.”
Pascrell played to the blue-collar voters during the debate.
“I was born and raised in Paterson and have lived there all my life,” Pascrell said. “I think that this is important to consider when we are addressing who should be the congressman. We are not entitled to these positions. That’s why we have elections.”
Pascrell noted that he was the first person in his family to graduate high school, and said he was proud to be an Army veteran and “the only veteran in this race.”
Rothman hammered Pascrell for voting “18 times against a woman’s right to choose” and for voting for TARP legislation.
The rowdy crowd continually cheered and booed throughout the debate, with Rothman asking Pascrell to tell his supporters to be quiet numerous times.