Seema Singh is frustrated. Not with the voters of her district for not hearing her message, but with the press for not promulgating it.
From the beginning of the 14th district State Senate campaign, Bill Baroni has had the upper hand in everything but campaign dollars in this Clean Elections district. All along, he’s had the power of incumbency, along with the reputation of a centrist Republican reformer, while Singh’s campaign has been beset by damaging revelations about her tenure as Ratepayer Advocate, a pending state ethics investigation, and general missteps — like the comparisons to Baroni and George W. Bush that have backfired and drawn criticism from traditionally Democratic-leaning organizations.
But the press leaves Baroni untouched and is eager to jump on her, said Singh.
“The press has not (been fair),” said Singh. “They have pushed stories that have been initiated by my opponent. But as far as the people of the district are concerned, I’ve received a lot of love, a lot of affection – an outpouring of support.”
Singh attended a senior breakfast in South Brunswick today with Gov. Jon Corzine and her two running mates, where she made her case to the 100 or so already Democratic attendees.
The 14th district legislative race – which is supposed to be the testing ground for a competitive election in the Clean Elections Program – has not turned out to be very competitive at all. Baroni is reportedly ahead by 20 points in internal polls from both parties, while Greenstein is ahead in her bid for re-election to a fifth term. That leaves one Assembly seat that is truly contested — between Democrat Wayne DeAngelo and Republicans Adam Bushman and Tom Goodwin.
But Singh said that, “God willing,” she still believes she can win, and took the opportunity to defend herself from the onslaught of negative news on her campaign. Take the most recent story about her using a clerk as a chauffeur to drive her to functions when she was Ratepayer Advocate: Singh felt shortchanged, since it wasn’t noted that she was a member of Gov. James E. McGreevey’s cabinet – the Public Advocate Designate – and attended functions on his behalf.
“They failed to tell you that I was on the cabinet of the governor. I was wearing two hats,” said Singh.
Baroni has gotten the vast majority of union endorsements in the district, but Singh listed a number of her own endorsements that she said haven’t been publicized, like the Nurses Association, the Tenants Association, CWA 1039, UAW Retirees and the Middlesex County Central Labor Council. But CWA Local 1039 President Thomas J. Palermo, Jr. denies that his union supports Singh and said they voted to back Baroni last May. "We fully endorse Mr. Baroni and proclaim that "he's our man," Palermo said in an e-mail to PoliticsNJ.com.
Baroni responded that he’s the one under attack from Singh – in mailers comparing him to President Bush. Indeed, Baroni has largely kept his hand out of negative attacks on Singh, even if Singh blames his henchmen for leaking them to the press.
“When the head of the AFL-CIO, not a Republican, calls your ad laughable, and when the president of the NJEA, not a Republican, calls your ad campaign desperate, and when the head of the Teamsters calls on you to take your ad down, that’s just a rough week for you,” said Baroni, who bristles at the implication that he has henchmen spreading bad news about Singh’s campaign. “If she’s calling major news sources henchmen she should explain that to them.”
Singh said she would prefer that the press focus instead on her years as ratepayer advocate and on one issue where she draws a contrast between herself and Baroni: her support for the $450 million stem cell initiative, which Baroni voted against putting on the ballot.
“I want to bring to the Legislature and the Senate my values and experience for the last five and a half years- fighting for hard-working families, seniors, low-income residents and really taking on those special interest groups,” said Singh.
If Singh has one thing working on her side in this election, it’s her Indian heritage. The district is home to a burgeoning South Asian population, which Singh has long been active in. Two other Asian-Indians have run for the Senate, but both were unsuccessful.
Harinder Panaser, a Singh supporter who attended the breakfast, said that the Indian-American community tends to vote as a bloc. When Panaser immigrated to the United States from India in 1995, he said, Singh, at the time a private attorney, helped him become acquainted. Moreover, he added, her presidency of the Asian Indian Chamber of Commerce and trip to the tsunami-ravaged parts of India in 2005 further endeared her to the community.
“Indian-Americans are values voters,” said Panaser. “They’ll support who cares for them. Their support of a candidate is that they don’t speak very vocally or openly to everybody, but they’re good supporters silently. They do vote.”
But even at this Democratic-sponsored event, not a bad word could be heard about Baroni. On his way out, Corzine said he’s supporting Singh because of her record as ratepayer advocate and the issues she champions, and downplayed the severity of the Singh chauffer story. But his words for Baroni sounded appreciative.
“Bill, for some good reasons, is a very popular individual in Trenton, whether it’s Republican or Democrat, because he has tried to lower the level of partisan debate and make it about issues,” said Corzine.