Lance Challenger Pushes for Special Russia Prosecutor

Lisa Mandelblatt. Mandelblatt

Lisa Mandelblatt, a Democrat and former criminal defense lawyer challenging Rep. Leonard Lance in 2018, joined a protest outside of the congressman’s office Tuesday evening pressuring him to support an independent investigation into President Trump and Russia.

“The way to keep Trump in check is to have members of Congress who are willing to stand up to him,” Mandelblatt told Observer NJ. “I believe that the foundation of our democracy is at stake. We need answers, we need to know whether there was any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The only way to do that is through an independent investigation.”

Lance, a moderate Republican who has beat back challenges in the 7th District for years, endorsed Trump ahead of the 2016 election. He broke with the president and most House Republicans on the American Health Care Act earlier this month, voting no, but he did vote to release the bill in committee. And Democrats are eyeing his district for the 2018 midterms along with Rep. Tom MacArthur’s (R-3) and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s (R-11).

After a week of nonstop revelations about Trump’s handling of highly classified information with Russian diplomats and his dealings with former FBI Director James Comey, some lawmakers from both parties have called for a new probe led by a special prosecutor or independent commission.

Lance spokesman John Byers said the congressman supports the existing bipartisan investigations by the House and Senate intelligence committees and by “career investigators at the U.S. Department of Justice.”

“This sentiment is shared by many including former [New Jersey] Governor Tom Kean who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission,” Byers said. “Like Gov. Kean, the congressman believes these investigations need to be given a chance to move ahead and work before there would be a need for a special prosecutor. Now more than ever it is essential that the two bipartisan congressional investigations and the U.S. Department of Justice investigation move forward and that the administration cooperates fully in their efforts.”

Mandelblatt said protests and increased involvement from constituents show that the district might be ripe for a flip from red to blue in the 2018 midterms. The Cook Political Report modified election predictions in Lance’s district from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican” after the health care vote earlier this month.

“Lance likes to call himself a moderate but I don’t see his voting record as moderate at all,” Mandelblatt said, noting Lance’s initial support of the GOP’s Affordable Care Act rewrite in committee. “He changed his vote at the end because of hours and hours of protests and letter-writing campaigns. We shouldn’t be having to tell him how to do his job. He should be stepping up and doing his job.”

Mandelblatt, 53, is a mother of two who lives in Westfield. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and a law degree from Fordham University. She is a former criminal defense lawyer, and now a substitute elementary school teacher. It’s her first run for office, and Mandelblatt said her experience volunteering at her local schools and synagogue have taught her how to listen to different points of view and find compromise.

Other Democrats are also lining up to challenge Lance, including Berkeley Heights bank executive Linda Weber and Scotch Plains lawyer Scott Salmon. Lance’s 2016 challenger, Peter Jacob, has also filed to run again in 2018. Lance beat Jacob 54 percent to 43 percent in 2016.