Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer, (D-29), Newark, embraced her new position as chair of the Assembly Environmental Committee, the beneficiary of a political war that left veteran Chairman Assemblyman John McKeon, (D-27), West Orange, on the outskirts of power.
“My experience will contribute to the success of the committee,” said Spencer, an attorney since 1997 who was born and raised in Newark’s South Ward and served in the Assembly since 2008.
“I am familiar with reviewing state law and regulations and how they will affect New Jersey, and as a practicing attorney I have been involved in environmental issues,” the Assemblywoman told PolitickerNJ.com. “I have represented individuals who have filed claims against large corporations who were polluting and causing injuries. Being a lawyer allows you to stay involved in many aspects of law. I’m trained to research the issue, and I will be taking that same approach to the committee: to learn as much as I can and debate the issue with those people involved, and do what’s in the best interest of the people of our state and protect our environment.”
The assemblywoman cited the clash between busness and environmental interests as the main battle zone.
“Business and economics are oftentimes not on the same page with the environment, and people on the economic side are trying to create opportunities at the expense of the environment,” she said. “Our charge is to explore how our economic opportunities can complement and enhance the environment.
“I’m not for overdevelopment,” the new chair added. “In our own little way we are affecting climate change with overdevelopment and losing our open spaces. We need to be creating more green spaces.”
Members of the environmental community fear intensified deregulatory efforts by the Christie Administration in the coming months. Spencer said she anticipates a fight.
“Deregulation is not something you just jump into,” she said. “There are two sides here: there is an economic side and there is an environmental side. The debate is not just about the economy. It is also about preservation and conservation.”
Associated more with law and public safety than environmental issues in Trenton, Spencer started her political career taking the lead in Newark’s recycling effort.
“When I was 5 or 6 my mother got me involved in Ecology Kids,” said Spencer. “We were doing recycling long before it became fashionable, walking down the street yelling, ‘We’re the Ecology Kids.’”
A photograph in the local African American newspaper showed a picture of the future assemblywoman cleaning up West Side Park and featured the caption, “Little Gracie Spencer doing her part.”
An outdoors enthusiast who represents the hardest streets of Newark, Spencer underscored her experience of the two sides of New Jersey’s environmental world.
“My experience in the outdoors has two sides,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed the great experiences of being in the Pine Barrens and being in cranberry bogs or hiking Round Valley. And I have also seen buildings go down in Newark and no monitoring of the chemicals given off that impact people living nearby.”
A close ally of Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s, Spencer has forged political alliances with both Newark North Ward Leader Steve Adubato and former Gov. Dick Codey. Ultimately she said she takes pride in representing the 29th District and her own South Ward.
“The South Ward is a community like any community, but for me personally many people know me. There are people that see me today who I see on a regular basis, who knew me as a child. It’s a very familial relationship I have with the South Ward. I carry all of them with me in Trenton. They are my family. Their issues and concerns are the ones I carry with me. On every vote, I have to ask myself how is this going to affect the woman who lives around the corner, and when I get home am I going to be able to hold my head up and know they are happy with the job I’m doing.”
Last Friday afternoon, Spencer was scheduled to meet with Bob Martin, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
She also talked to McKeon, who chaired the environmental committee for 10 years, and said she hopes to rely on his veteran insights into environmental issues as she takes over command of the committee.