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The Final Round: Ciattarelli and the New Jersey Politics of Race


Traditionally, Columbus Day, which is celebrated this Monday, October 11, 2021, marks the start of the final round of the gubernatorial campaign. This year, the day after Columbus Day, there will be a debate between incumbent Democratic Governor Phil Murphy and his Republican challenger, former MP Jack Ciattarelli. As the candidates near the final round, there are two political demographic considerations that will determine the bottom line.

The first demographic consideration is the overwhelming percentage of Democratic voters who support Phil Murphy, around 90 percent in both the Monmouth poll, the gold standard of New Jersey polls, and the Stockton University poll, which is the Nate Silver rating of Surveys are rapidly gaining in importance.

There are currently a million more registered Democrats than Republicans in New Jersey. As long as Murphy holds that leadership among the Democrats, Ciattarelli is numerically impossible to win regardless of how well the GOP challenger does among Republicans and Independents.

The second demographic consideration is Ciattarelli’s utter inability to win the support of African American voters. In that constituency he ranks behind Murphy 87-4 in the Monmouth poll and 73-7 in the Stockton poll.

The message from these two polls is clear: for Jack Ciattarelli to compete with Phil Murphy in the final days of the campaign, he must win the support of a large number of white Democratic voters. He has no hope of gaining increased support from Black Democrats who suffered from four years of Trump racism and will never support Trump supporter Jack Ciattarelli, especially after learning that he was at a Trumpist stop-the-steal Rally has spoken.

So the question is, what will Ciattarelli’s special message be to White Democratic voters in New Jersey?

Jack Ciattarelli is not a racist or a fanatic. He will not seek to stir up or stir up anti-African American hatred among White Democrats in New Jersey. He’s not a 21st century version of Tony Imperiale.

But Jack Ciattarelli recognizes that there are many among New Jersey white working class Democrats who, while not racist themselves, harbor racially motivated grievances and resentments based on their perception that African Americans are received and continue to be do could receive unjustified special aid. Forms of such “special assistance” include increased school assistance, teaching Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the public school system, and affirmative action support for African Americans seeking employment in the private sector.

The white Democrats, who harbor racially based complaints and resentments, are a clear minority among all white Democratic voters. My personal view is that these perceptions are imprecise because they do not know how many serious obstacles still stand in the way of African Americans to achieve their American dream.

Nor do I think there are enough racially offended New Jersey White Democrats to win the Jack Ciattarelli election. However, after watching the Murphy-Ciattarelli debate on September 28th and listening to Ciattarelli’s appearance on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC-AM radio on September 29th, I have no doubt that these are the white Democrats who are on Jack Ciattarelli’s attention and appeals are the focus of attention.

There is a danger to the political body in Ciattarelli’s message to these voters. These appeals consist of the same Trumpist rhetoric that Republican candidates use to appeal to popular Trumpist voters.

And such rhetoric has the ultimate effect of racially polarizing New Jerseyans, making it all the more difficult for Jack to rule effectively in the highly unlikely event of a Ciattarelli riot.

There are four examples of recent racially polarizing rhetoric and / or positions by Ciattarelli that stand out in this regard.

The first was Ciattarelli’s opposition to Critical Racial Theory, as set out in the September 28 debate, which he reinforced after the debate as follows:

“I don’t think we should teach students that white people perpetuate systemic racism or that the white student is the oppressor or the black and brown student is the oppressed.”

Unfortunately, by making this statement, Ciattarelli openly denies the essential truth about black-white relationships in America. And as Phil Murphy stated in response to his testimony, we shouldn’t be afraid to teach our descendants the truth about the race in America. The governor’s response, as follows, was one of the highlights of his campaign:

“…. With all our hearts we must teach our children the whole truth and nothing but the truth … They must teach all the truth and nothing but the truth, including about slavery, oppression and racism in the history of our country. “

On the Critical Race Theory question, Murphy chose the High Road while Ciattarelli chose the Low Road. In New Jersey, the high road usually wins.

The next Ciattarelli claim relevant to racially motivated grievances was an allusion he made in response to a comment by Brian Lehrer on the massive economic inequalities Americans of Color are facing. Teacher’s comment read as follows:

… the average net worth of a white family in New Jersey is around $ 352,000. $ 6,000 for a black New Jersey family and $ 7,000 for Latinos. 80% of white families in the state owned their own homes, only 40% of blacks and Latinos. Newark, Camden and Paterson are among the poorest cities in America.

Ciattarelli’s answer was as follows:

Going back 100 years, the same statistics could have been applied to the Italian immigrants, the Polish immigrants, the Jewish immigrants who all came to the United States.

Now I find Ciattarelli’s assertion an insulting allusion and reformulation of the following words, which I often heard in my childhood and youth from Jews of my parents’ generation (though not from my parents themselves):

“We did it – why can’t they (African Americans)?”

I am a Jewish activist, proud of my heritage and I am committed to the fight against anti-Semitism wherever it exists and however vicious it may be. One of my proudest accomplishments of my government / political career was drafting the New Jersey Holocaust Education Act while serving as the Assembly’s Republican Senior Policy Advisor in 1993.

But when it comes to America, the hardships of African Americans have always been far worse than those of the Jews. My grandparents and great-grandparents came to America of their own free will, and while they faced discrimination, it was nothing compared to the African Americans who had come as slaves and in chains 250 years earlier.

Maintaining and strengthening the Afro-American-Jewish alliance is one of the most important priorities in my personal and political life. The allusion to Ciattarelli complicates my task.

The most notable Ciattarelli initiative with an implicit, if not explicit message to racially harmed white Democratic voters is its property tax / education funding proposal. Despite Ciattarelli’s denials, this measure has the unmistakable effect that whites in the suburbs are granted more real estate tax breaks at the expense of Afro-American city dwellers.

In the remaining weeks of the campaign, this could be the most racially polarizing topic. The irony is that this Ciattarelli proposal can be found unconstitutional based on the decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court, Abbott v Burke.

The final controversy that arose during Ciattarelli’s appearance on the Brian Lehrer Show was his refusal to answer the host’s question about Jack’s definition of “white privilege”. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack.”

While Ciattarelli refused to answer the “white privilege” question, Vice President Diane Allen gave an excellent answer in her lieutenant governor debate with incumbent Sheila Oliver, as follows:

“I suppose the white privilege is the fact that for many people who are white, we are able to achieve things and do things by thinking that we are doing it on our own when we are actually doing it because we are given a little leeway because of our color. Most of us are probably not aware of this. ”

Allen added that children should learn about slavery and the history of the nation, but that it should be done in a way that brings people together.

It is a core responsibility of every New Jersey governor to study basic racial and sociological issues when taking the oath of office. Jack Ciattarelli’s refusal to answer the white privilege question shows that he is unwilling or unable to deal with the state’s ongoing racial problems. In contrast, in her response, Diane Allen demonstrates a willingness and high level of competence in this regard, qualities that in this era of Trumpism are hard to find in a Republican candidate across the state of New Jersey.

Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA and Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission during the tenure of former President George W. Bush.

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