PATERSON – The Passaic River emerges out of the Great Swamp and cuts north like any one of a number of other swamp born rivulets, muscles farther than the others though and wider, through small towns and burghs and incorporated handfuls of downtown business districts, but the river doesn’t make its most dramatic statement of existence, indeed it doesn’t hit the falls, until it gets to Paterson.
This is Bill Pascrell country, where New Jersey’s third largest city holds that natural wonder at its urban core, where the state’s most closely watched Congressional Primary today raged with an announcement by the Rothman Campaign that the Dominican community stands not with Pascrell – but with his Bergen County opponent, U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9).
“It shouldn’t be about residence,” said 5th Ward Councilman Julio Tavarez. “It should be about accomplishments. Certain qualifications are needed. The Congressman happens to live in Englewood. The truth is, it doesn’t matter if he lives in Englewood, Clifton or Passaic.”
Tavarez and other Dominican leaders, including Board of Education Commissioners Wendy Guzman and Alex Mendez, and At-Large Councilman Rigo Rodriguez welcomed Rothman to Paterson this afternoon for their official endorsements, as Pascrell partisans descended on the storefront plastered over with Rothman signs and attempted to engage.
“I’m President Bill Clinton,” came the familiar soothing Southern voice through speakers as Rothman, Tavarez and company attempted to conduct their press conference.
On Friday, Clinton will be here in Paterson to give his political blessing to Pascrell on his home turf.
Moments later, following the former President’s projected voice, the hard-edged tones of Pascrell could be heard. All the while a torrent of “Pascrell! Pascrell! Pascrell!” chants flooded the street.
“I couldn’t be prouder to have the endorsements of these outstanding public servants,” said Rothman. “These are people of great energy and integrity and a (strong) work ethic.”
Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly (D-35), a key backer of Pascrell’s, said the endorsements only help Pascrell.
“They just help wake up Paterson,” said the assemblyman, who added that Rothman has done little more than slander the home town congressman on his way to making no inspiring imprint on the contest.
Pascrell, Wimberly said, “stands for everything I believe in, including our schools, teachers, firefighters and police,” in addition to living eight blocks from the assemblyman.
Tavarez backed Sayegh for mayor in 2010.
This time, “he picked the wrong guy in this race,” said Ward 6 Councilman Andre Sayegh, an ardent Pascrell backer who remains closely allied with the 5th Ward councilman.
The Pascrell camp laid into Rothman heavily, not just with street optics and acoustics but in a press release denouncing the connective tissue between Rothman and Pedro Rodriguez, a city council candidate in the midst of a recount.
“Since leaving his home and choosing to run against a Democrat instead of taking on the Conservative Tea Party candidate in his District, Steve Rothman has shown time and again that he will say and do anything in order to maintain a seat in Congress for two more years,” said Patricia Cabrera, spokesman for the Pascrell Campaign. “The people of Paterson and people across north Jersey deserve to know the truth behind the irregularities contained in Rothman’s ELEC and FEC reports. We also deserve to know what impact Rothman campaign cash has had on these endorsements.”
On March 9, Rothman’s campaign gave $7,200 to the Hispanic Leadership Committee, established on Jan. 30. On March 26, the congressman gave $4,000 each to Latinos for a Better Future and Paterson United Coalition, both set up just days earlier. The two PACs filed with the Election Law Enforcement Commission on April 5 and use the same bank. None of the PACs has filed reports with ELEC, as required by law. But all three gave more than $8,000 to Rodriguez, who is supported by the Dominican Political Representation Organization.” Cabrera pointed out that two of the PACs – Latinos for a Better Future and Paterson United Coalition – filed reports with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (NJ ELEC) on the same day, created both bank accounts at the same bank, and the filings have the same font in the typed portion and same handwriting in the written portion and same mission statement.
“We are used to the lies of that campaign,” said Rodriguez when asked about the connection.
Throughout their press conference, Tavarez, Rodriguez and the others mentioned Pascrell’s support for a border fence as one of the main reasons they believe he’s wrong for Paterson. They also noted Rothman’s record delivering the goods – $2.2 billion in federal dollars for his district.
By contrast, said Rodriguez, “Paterson is a deserted city. Look at the roads.”
Rothman presented himself as a public servant who has been there and done that when it comes to taking charge of downbeat towns.
“It’s been my privilege to turn around cities that needed my help,” he said. “I turned around the City of Englewood, which was near bankruptcy.”
The congressman said he knows he’s in a dogfight with Pascrell but said he’s confident. He made no apologies for running a campaign highlighting Pascrell’s record, which he said leans too far right on the environment, illegal immigration and abortion. He was not content to make the campaign about personalities and feels the voters deserve to know key distinctions.
As Pascrell backers continued to wave their signs and Clinton’s voice blanketed Market Street, Rothman went up on network television this afternoon.
His final ad – running from now through Election Day – goes for the jugular, as it praises the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for pursuing litigation that will force companies responsible for dumping dioxin and other cancer causing chemicals into the Passaic River to pay up to $4 Billion in clean up costs.
The New Jersey State Superior Court ruled last week that a third company is liable for the contamination and will be required to pay to remediate the River.
“The State DEP should be commended for making the polluters pay for the cost of this clean-up,” Rothman said. “Those responsible for polluting the Passaic River with some of the most toxic chemicals known to man should be solely responsible for billions of dollars in clean up costs. Taxpayers should not have to pay one penny. This is a matter of right and wrong.”
Rothman said he has always supported the DEP’s “Polluters Must Pay” approach, unlike Pascrell, who is on record opposing the D.E.P. lawsuit on several occasions, as far back as 2006.
“It’s disappointing that Congressman Pascrell sided with big polluters by opposing the D.E.P. lawsuit and taking the position that taxpayers should also pay for clean-up costs, not just the firms responsible for the pollution that continues to threaten the people and families that live near this river.”
The ad goes to the symbolic centerpiece of Pascrell’s base, in a big money sniping action Pascrell’s supporters say will only add to the impression of Rothman as too negative for this intraparty drama.