JERSEY CITY – The Democrats have the economic argument on their side in this presidential year, in part because they’re more in touch with a broad swathe of the country’s population, argues U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-West New York).
In a small but significant example, Sires says the Republican Party does not have a diverse caucus in the U.S. Congress like the Democrats, and that has made the GOP gradually more isolated.
"When you look at our caucus, you see everyone," says the freshman congressman. "Then you look at the Republicans, and they’re all the same."
It’s a striking snapshot to Sires, who represents many ethnic communities in his 13th Congressional District.
He has Cubans in West New York and Union City and Elizabeth, African Americans in Jersey City, Puerto Ricans in the North Ward of Newark, Portugese in the East Ward, Irish and Italians and Eastern Europeans in Bayonne, Sikhs in Carteret, etc.
In short, the gamut.
In addition to lacking the ability to appeal to as broad a coalition as the Democrats, Republicans find themselves in this cycle deprived of being able to make a coherent economic argument, in Sires’s opinion.
He believes Barack Obama will be the next president because the GOP will not be able to make the case that it’s better for the economy with a war in Iraq costing $12 billion a month.
"Bush’s legacy is a disaster," says the congressman. "He’s one of the worst presidents the country’s ever had. The mistake of Iraq has set this country back ten or 15 years. Big oil has done well under him. Halliburton’s done well and Bush’s friends, but the average person is hurting. He has run up a deficit that, if you add it up, it’s bigger than that of all the previous presidential administrations combined."
Still, Obama’s going to need some help.
Two and a half weeks ahead of the Democratic Convention, Sires says the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee could unite the party by choosing Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) as his running mate, in part because she would balance the ticket and underscore the party’s diversity, he asserts.
"Obama’s not moving up in the polls right now," says Sires, who supported Clinton in the Democratic Primary. "Hillary’s a vote-getter and she has experience. I still think she’s the best candidate."
Sires admits that her thumbs-up vote on Iraq contributed to her downfall in the primary.
"Her campaign also took the caucus states for granted," he says. "Obama really picked up a lot of steam in those states with caucuses."
As a woman from the Northeast who carried he big Democratic states, "In my eyes, it’s his best political pick," Sires says. "We’re talking about a vice president. Nobody’s asking him to have dinner with her every night."
Sires recently moved into a new district office in Jersey City’s Journal Square. He looks out over the region’s urban industrial core: New York to the east, Newark to the west. Perth Amboy’s down there somewhere to southward.
Not facing any significant general election challenge in this Democratic Party stronghold, Sires says he has found a mission in the Congress as a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
A Cuban immigrant and former state Speaker of the Assembly who rose to power when Jim McGreevey was elected governor in 2000, Sires beat Perth Amboy mayor Joe Vas in a special election in 2006 to succeed Robert Menendez in the U.S. Congress.
Growing up in West New York, Sires was one of only a few Latinos in the school system. In the 1960s, it was mostly an Italian and Irish town, and for Sires, it wasn’t always easy, particularly when the police would run the budding star basketball player out of the park at night.
"Just for playing ball," he says.
But Sires, who went on to become a star Memorial High School guard and small forward, parlayed his athletic career into politics and after a number of losses in the 1980s, in 1995 became mayor of West New York, and the boss of some of the same officers who chased him out of the park.
Dismayed at the prospect of only the wealthy dominating politics if there is no significant campaign finance reform, Sires, an insurance executive who spent $2 million two years ago in his primary war with Vas, supports public financing of elections.
"It should be one pot of money that everyone fights for," he says.