This week, I spoke with Madelyn Hoffman, longtime environmental and social justice activist, and New Jersey Gubernatorial candidate.
Photo Credit: Madelyn Hoffman
Hoffman, spent 18 years as the executive director of New Jersey Peace Action. She has now retired from her role, yet continues to remain engaged in activism, creating positive developments in communities across the state.
During our conversation, which has been slightly edited for clarity and style, Hoffman talks about her inspiration to run for public office, her passion for her home state, why peace is such an important issue for her whether nationally or across the globe, her running mate, and what type of administration she would run, if elected.
Hoffman is running on the Green Party ticket. This isn’t her first green party run. She has been on the political scene for decades; in 1996 she appeared on the ballot in New Jersey as Vice President for Ralph Nader, and in 1997 she ran for governor and finished fifth in a field of seven candidates.
Although ‘Madelyn’ is a powerful peace activist, educator, and politician, possessing a great deal of knowledge on many subjects, she comes across as the someone you’d like to have as a neighbor, always putting the needs of communities ahead of hers, yet not shifting from her lifetime dedication to help make New Jersey and world a better place. It’s a rare and noble cause, fueled with love and compassion for all people.
Q. Can you tell me a little about yourself?
My name is Madelyn Hoffman and I have been fortunate enough to spend more of my adult life as an activist in New Jersey. Right out of college, I became a VISTA Volunteer in Newark. This job evolved from teaching music to preschoolers and tutoring elementary school students in math and reading to helping to establish a non-profit organization with the mission of working with communities and citizens groups throughout the state fighting against toxic chemical pollution. From 1983 to 1998, I was the Executive Director of the Grass Roots Environmental Organization and worked with almost 200 citizens’ groups throughout New Jersey to help them organize to fight existing polluting facilities and to oppose the construction of new polluting facilities proposed for their communities. It was because of my experience working with groups and communities all over NJ on toxic chemical pollution problems that I was drafted by the Green Party of New Jersey, first to run for president in New Jersey in 1996 and then to run as Ralph Nader’s vice-presidential running mate in New Jersey when he first ran as a Green in 1996.
In 1997, I ran for Governor of NJ as a Green. In 1998, I ran for U.S. Congress as a Green in District 12.
After about a year and a half’s hiatus from electoral politics and from the non-profit world working for an attorney as the person handling real estate closings, I was able to get a job with NJ Peace Action, a non-profit organization that was founded in 1957 with the mission of working for the elimination of nuclear weapons. I worked as NJ Peace Action’s Executive Director full-time from August 2000 through May 2018. In June 2018, I announced a run for U.S. Senate against Senator Menendez. In 2020, I ran for U.S. Senate against Senator Booker and now, here in 2021, I’ve recently launched a run for Governor of New Jersey.
Q. Back in April 2021 you announced that you wish to represent the people of New Jersey as the next Governor. What made you run for office?
My decision to run for New Jersey Governor was fueled by the response to my record-setting campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2020 and the realization that the people of New Jersey and the rest of the country really want an alternative to the two mainstream political parties that have melded together, especially here in New Jersey, to form one corrupt political machine that does not and cannot address people’s concerns. While the pandemic made the problems of income equality in New Jersey more apparent, these problems have existed for many years prior to the pandemic.
I believe strongly that it is only by people organizing to reclaim their power that the changes necessary to improve life in New Jersey will occur. These problems include: growing income inequality; high rates of unemployment; inequality in educational opportunities; mounting student debt; increasing threats from climate change; lack of real protection for renters and homeowners throughout New Jersey faced with the possibility of eviction or foreclosure when the pandemic ends; fair and just legalization of cannabis (something not yet realized by the state of New Jersey); a real Green New Deal with a Workers’ Bill of Rights, a living wage and single-payer health care for all; and an end to police brutality, racism and discrimination.
I run with much input from the current generation. I believe many are already leading the fight on many of the issues listed above. Their actions are infused with a sense of urgency and an understanding that we have no time to waste in addressing them.
I am also running because there are so many ways in which both Democrats and Republicans do not adequately address the needs of the majority of people in this state and country. I believe that the independent voices of the activist community are needed as constant reminders of what needs to be done, without changing the message should those now in power not want to hear it.
Q: What would be your number one priority as governor, and what steps would you take to achieve it?
My number one priority as governor would be the implementation of a real, eco-socialist Green New Deal. I would work to move New Jersey onto fully renewable sources of energy more quickly than the current proposal to get us to 50% renewables by 2030 and 100% renewables by 2050. We simply don’t have the time to wait that long.
We need to stop granting permits to power plants that burn fossil fuels, we need to uphold the fracking ban and we need the legislature to pass a Green amendment, one that would grant the right to all residents of New Jersey to have clean water available to drink, clean air to breathe, and uncontaminated fruits and vegetables to eat.
One important consequence of climate change is flooding is occurring not only in shore communities but inland alongside streams and tributaries as well. Not only is this happening during storms but even when there’s a simple full moon. Predictions are that as the sea level rises this problem is only going to get worse. It’s not uncommon now to see water standing stagnant in fields where we grow our food.
We need to talk about climate resiliency to the tune of 5-6 feet of sea level rise. That includes bulkheads that are already crumbling in Atlantic City. And, as importantly, we need to address the issue of climate justice. Atlantic City is a poor and mostly black community. We need to plan ahead so we know what will happen and how we will respond if we are forced to displace people who have lived there for generations.
Climate justice is an issue throughout New Jersey, as well. Lead contaminated pipes in Newark, the concentration of polluting facilities in cities like Newark, Camden, Elizabeth and elsewhere, require attention from those who govern.
The real Green New Deal I envision will prioritize a Workers Bill of Rights -- from single-payer health care to a living wage to forgiveness of student debt to free college tuition. We are living at an opportune time to implement it as almost all institutions failed us during the pandemic. Let’s rebuild slowly, consciously and with the welfare of all in mind.
Q: How would you ensure that all students from all walks of life get a first-class education, and if this involves increases in funding how would you pay for it?
New Jersey’s experiences during the pandemic revealed the on-going, deep divisions in the quality of education for students depending on where those students live. Statistics about the number of students without access to computers and internet were surprisingly high, meaning that both in-person, classroom learning and remote, virtual learning are filled with similar challenges.
I would end the use of property taxes as the main source of funding for public schools. Money would be raised from the wealth tax and the corporate tax, as well as cut backs in the military budget.
Q. What capacities and skills should New Jerseyan students have developed to prepare them for living and working constructively? Should the state introduce tax management, entrepreneurship, and money management as mandatory classes for students to take before they go out into the world?
Money management, tax management and entrepreneurship classes for all students would be useful and helpful for all. However, these classes should not replace art, music, sports and liberal arts -- as all these subjects are helpful in creating a well-rounded education. Schools are already accused of not providing enough opportunities for creativity and imagination, focusing too heavily on preparing students to work for major corporations. Let’s teach students the money management skills they need, without eliminating other classes that will allow students to find out what they really want to do with their lives.
Q. What initiatives would you offer for students who study at Colleges/Universities in other states/countries in order to return back home and flourish work and family wise?
I would push for legislation to forgive all student debt owed to state public colleges and universities.
Q. The State of New Jersey is currently one of the worst states in the nation (number 49 out of 50) to start a business (whether for profit or non-profit). What would you do to help entrepreneurs to start their own businesses?
This is one reason why I propose an eco-socialist Green New Deal, one that cuts the military budget by at least half, freeing up almost $400 billion to fund the other kinds of programs that are necessary to create a healthy and sustainable community. I would work to make New Jersey into a national/international model of health and sustainability. Under these conditions, I believe that businesses will want to move to New Jersey to be part of these pioneering efforts.
Additionally, I support the creation of a public bank, one which will be governed by the communities impacted by economic and development decisions and one that will assist in creating this kind of welcoming environment for small businesses.
Q. The state of NJ currently offers paid family and medical leave. During this pandemic we learned that the state does not provide leave for the employee’s own serious health condition. Should we add state-mandated paid sick leave for our workers?
Yes, absolutely. No worker should have to choose between making a livelihood and sacrificing his/her health and the health of his/her family.
Q. Should New Jersey raise the minimum-wage? What is a fair wage, given our high cost of living?
New Jersey must raise the minimum wage and instead create a LIVING wage – one that allows for its residents to pay rent, buy food, buy gas and more. While New Jersey raised its minimum wage to $12/hour in January 2021, that amount is still less than the $15/hour minimum wage proposed in 2009. While that might have had more value in 2009, by now even the $15/hour wage isn’t sufficient.
Best estimates are that a truly living wage for New Jersey would be between $22 and $25/hour.
I also support a universal basic income. A universal basic income would especially serve families struggling to make ends meet in New Jersey due to the pandemic, but would also combat poverty when the pandemic ends. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proposed, through his vision of UBI, all people deserve a roof over their head, food in their stomachs, clean clothes to wear, shoes on their feet, clean water, and other basic essentials as a human right. A UBI is not a substitute for a well-paying job, but would certainly have helped millions survive during the pandemic.
Q. How will NJ play a role in combating climate change? Do you see NJ working with other US states and cities that want to address climate change? Is there room for international cooperation?
NJ will play a role in combating climate change by continuing to work with the Delaware River Basin Commission in protecting the watershed from pipelines and fracking. If NJ denies a permit to a huge power plant that would be constructed on the Hudson River in order to burn fossil fuels to provide energy that would be transported via pipeline underneath the Hudson River, that would also help. I believe that efforts to address climate change need to be international, but I would hope that they would be legitimate efforts. In other words, International Free Trade agreements with Mexico and Canada, for example, facilitate a race toward the bottom, eliminating stricter environmental regulations as “barriers to free trade.” We need to pay particular attention to this phenomenon along the Mexican/U.S. border and the maquiladoras. Instead of eliminating environmental regulations to achieve the “lowest common denominator,” we need to bring all facilities around the world up to the strictest possible standard.
Q.Do you support a moratorium on new pipelines within the state?
Yes, I do, unequivocally. We have no time to wait. Governor Murphy’s (President Biden’s) position that we should be running on 50% renewables by the year 2030 and 100% renewables by 2050 is not nearly fast enough and will likely not protect us from the ever-worsening impacts of climate change.
I have signed this pledge before and will do so again this year:
"I pledge not to take contributions over $200 from oil, gas, and coal industry executives, lobbyists, or PACs and instead prioritize the health of our families, climate, and democracy over fossil fuel industry profits."
This pledge caps contributions from the fossil fuels industry at $200, while my campaign pledges to take no money at all from that industry.
Q. There is currently no active fracking in the State, but given the natural gas reserves under the state, the future is uncertain. What can we do to ensure fracking, including dumping of fracking waste stays out of our state? Will you support passage of fracking waste laws in NJ?
As governor, I would definitely sign legislation that would ban fracking in New Jersey.
Since the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) recently passed a regulation banning fracking the 4-state watershed – Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and New York – I would make sure that their regulations stand and would stand firm in response to any lawsuits that would be filed against these regulations.
Q. There has been an increase in hate (verbally and physically) crimes in New Jersey against Black, Asians, Immigrants, and LGBTQ. How would you address and protect these individuals on the state level?
Hate crimes are often an outgrowth both of weaknesses in education and of the U.S. government’s international and domestic policies. Why do I say that? Many experts agree that hate is taught. A young child isn’t born hating somebody else just like that. The hate and resentment builds over time. The U.S. treatment of immigrants and the U.S. lack of care and concern for bombing or waging war on countries of black and/or brown people helps to create a false sense that white people in the U.S. and Europe are superior to the people of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and more.
Add to this the high rates of unemployment and the hardships caused by the pandemia and you have a pot of water waiting to boil over. Throughout U.S. history, government officials have tried to exploit the physical, outward differences between people for financial gain, setting people up to get angry at each other, not at the corporations that take advantage of that anger, or of the government officials who dehumanize the “other” in order to wage war against them.
We need curriculum in our schools that address these issues and we need to restructure our economy and police force in order to create new relationships between people based on respect and the fundamental belief that everyone deserves the same respect. Everyone deserves affordable housing, everyone deserves access to quality health care, everyone deserves not to go hungry... the list goes on.
And the people deserve to know that it is the economic system that is to blame for the inequality that exists, not groups of people struggling to survive in the same way as you might be. Under my administration, people of all Queer identities would be welcomed and invited to the table to help us radically change gendered language in our state laws and foster greater diversity. Especially important, a commission would be created to specifically research and combat violence that disproportionately impacts Black Transgender Women.
The education system in New Jersey would also be required to actively teach the Black, Indigenous, and Queer history of New Jersey as part of the curriculum. Grants would be given to encourage schools to do gender inclusive renovations to their restrooms, and to encourage LGBTQ+ students to engage in the healthy lifestyles that our current sports education programs discourage them from engaging in. The further implementation and design of Queer sex education will also develop under my administration to make sure that all relationships are represented in the classroom.
New Jersey’s Disabled Community would also see improvements, as the state would more strictly require public facilities comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Accommodations for the disabled community must not be thrown into urban planning as an afterthought. Only by planning for all of New Jersey’s residents from the start will we create safe and welcoming communities for all. The Hoffman Administration would also embrace wholeheartedly neurodiversity, and work with schools to promote it instead of hide it.
Q. How can the state respond to ICE?
The state must respond much more forcefully to the problems of the ICE detention centers than it has been to date. Thousands of people have taken to the streets, attended Freeholder meetings, both virtually and in person, provided testimony, participated in car caravans around the detention centers, and so much more to call attention to the inhuman conditions that exist inside and the situation of many held for months. I’ve followed on-going hunger strikes and interviewed hunger strikers inside about what prompted them to stop eating and how some were prepared to die inside than to break their hunger strike.
Over the past year, I have participated in countless actions and vigils and marches calling for Essex, Union, Bergen and Hudson Counties to end their contracts with ICE and to release all that have been held in detention in these facilities, especially during the time of COVID. Amendment 8 of the U.S.Constitution prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. A possible death sentence due to close quarters in a county jail with an inability to follow guidelines for health and safety during the pandemic, amounts to potentially cruel and unusual punishment.
My position has always been to Abolish ICE and to free those detained. It is necessary to abolish ICE at the same time the prisons/detention centers are closed, otherwise those held inside could be transferred and not released. Transfers are also made more dangerous during the time of COVID -- and could result in a person winding up further from home/friends/family than where he/she started. Legislation proposed for New Jersey would ban any new contracts with ICE, but GPNJ initiated an effort together with about 14 or more organizations, came out with a strong statement that opposed the legislation because it didn’t mandate the closure of existing ICE facilities.
If the state of NJ were more forceful in its demands of the counties, much more could be accomplished. As Governor, I wouldn’t let the counties defer to the state or the state defer to the federal government. I’d make it clear that as a state, we needed to release those currently held inside and Abolish ICE, not in one year or two years, but now!
It is also very important to me that a connection be made between U.S. policy toward Latin America, the Middle East, South Asia and elsewhere, resulting in the creation of the largest refugee population since WWII. The U.S. persists in supporting dictators in Haiti and repressive regimes in Colombia and Israel. While U.S. international policy is more a federal concern than a statewide concern, New Jersey has the 2nd highest number of Colombians, second only to New York State. New Jersey also has a high number of Haitians and Paterson, New Jersey has the highest number of Palestinians anywhere in the U.S. As governor, I will make it a point to continually make the connection between U.S. international relations and the refugee/migrant crisis within New Jersey.
Q. How can non-violent felons be reintegrated into the workforce?
First, I believe that felons should not forfeit their right to vote, while behind bars, on parole, or having finished their time on parole. I would support programs that would assist non-violent felons in finding employment and would provide incentives for companies that would hire them.
Q. How can the state of NJ provide for children entered in the criminal justice system at a young age with learning disabilities or endured poverty, abuse and/or neglect, in an effort to end this cruelty?
The school to prison pipeline begins from the moment a child steps inside a school. In fact, the “school to prison pipeline” begins with the unequal conditions of our communities based on terrible income inequality. This problem can be addressed by revamping our income tax system. The tax system needs to be genuinely progressive -- so those who can afford to pay more, are assessed at a higher tax rate. I would advocate for the imposition of a wealth tax on the very wealthy. We also need to return to the time when corporations paid their fair share of taxes, instead of providing tax break after tax break and when municipalities run out of money to provide municipal services, accepting offers from corporations to privatize our schools, prisons, hospitals and public services. With more financial resources for our communities, some of the challenges faced in poorer areas would be eliminated.
Q. I want to switch gears to the unaffordable rentals and the continuing real estate corruption ranging from Architects, to Construction Companies, to Municipalities, including the Municipality lawyers who are taking under the table pays in exchange for construction approvals against the will or knowledge of residents. How can this rampant corruption in bright day light be stopped? How can affordable housing be brought back for all residents?
Corruption needs to have a spotlight focused on it, in order for it to disappear. In too many instances throughout New Jersey, there is a “cozy” relationship between elected officials and monied interests. Green Party candidates take no corporate or Political Action Committee money, meaning that we answer to no one but the community. This, too, helps eliminate corruption because the Green Party’s goal is to implement policies that help the community as a whole.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created conditions that can allow governments to restructure the dynamics of rents and mortgages, and put the brakes on overdevelopment and gentrification, the replacement of low-to-moderate income housing with higher rentals for wealthier residents. The current moratorium on evictions must be extended. Even when more of the economy opens up, tenants’ rents must be forgiven. Otherwise, tenants will have to both stay current with their rents and pay back months of what is owed, an impossible feat. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development showed a 9% rise in homelessness in NJ from January 2019 to January 2020, even before the pandemic. It is essential that the thousands in danger of being evicted now are spared – and as the Affordable Housing organizations in Newark demand -- that all rents be canceled.
One way to help exert some control over skyrocketing rents is to implement universal rent control. Universal rent control is one tool for doing so. In late April, Asbury Park voted with the landlords instead of the tenants -- opting to provide fewer protections for tenants and instead give landlords the right to raise rents more freely, evoke vacancy decontrol more often, and, in general, help contribute to the migration of tenants from one side of the railroad tracks to the other. In addition, our senior citizens on fixed incomes are having a very difficult time renting because approval is predicated on verifiable monthly income, instead of taking inventory of a person’s assets.
An eco-socialist Green New Deal places more value on addressing the needs of tenants and workers, instead of on landlords and corporate executives. We have a unique opportunity now to do this, as the pandemic revealed many of the inadequacies of cities and workplaces being organized solely around the profit motive (i.e. capitalism). Mutual aid societies now exist throughout New Jersey, a sign that communities understand the need to take care of each other, in a society in which businesses prioritize their bottom line, instead of the community’s health.
Q. In light of people actively marching and protesting to defund police during a global pandemic that is reaching a one year mark, how would you address the constituents who demand police accountability in the State?
I participated in many such marches and protests throughout New Jersey beginning shortly after the murder of George Floyd. However, I have participated for years in marches protesting police brutality in New Jersey. During last year’s campaign, I asked Newark residents how former Mayor Cory Booker measured up in his handling of the Newark police and got an excellent lesson on how many flaws there were in his approach. I would listen to and work together with residents of the state’s major cities in order to ensure I supported programs that people believe will hold police accountable – whether they be civilian review boards with subpoena power, defunding and demilitarizing the police, and supporting municipalities in cutting the budget for police departments and reappropriating those dollars to community programs that would provide alternatives to the confrontational, racist police that have terrorized BIPOC for decades.
Q. As we have witnessed over and over again, statewide training of police officers to raise cultural diversity awareness, improve community relations, and prevent fatal police shootings haven’t gotten us anywhere. What else do you think can, and should be done, to improve race relations between our police officers and the communities they serve? And what do you think should be done to combat corruption in police unions, police departments and even the prosecutor’s office?
First, we must recognize that regardless of stated intentions, many police forces in New Jersey, like in the rest of the country, act as if they are in an adversarial role with the communities they are supposed to serve. In addition, if we look at many municipal budgets, we see that the money allocated for the police department takes up an overwhelming amount of the money spent. Many are, no doubt, familiar with the expression “if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” As a society, we must recognize that the police aren’t equipped to deal with the variety of problems that arise. Some problems are best addressed by social workers, some by guidance counselors and teachers, and some by other social agencies. How many incidents have occurred of late involving a person who was having some kind of episode due to mental illness? Violence is not the answer to these episodes. However, we see police repeatedly dealing with these episodes with a gun. A gun is not a problem solver, especially not if guns are aimed at the chest of people stopped by the police – or, like Rashard Brooks, who fell asleep in the drive-through line at Wendy’s, shot in the back. My solution would be to end qualified immunity and defund the police so that money was available to fully fund social and community agencies that could de-escalate situations and inspire confidence in those approached by the police. As I recommend cutting the military budget so that billions are available for community problems, I would recommend something similar at the local level in New Jersey. In addition, I would oppose the continuation of the1033 program, a program that allows the Department of Defense to donate obsolete military hardware to local police departments, weapons of war that serve to militarize the police and suppress protests in our communities. I would urge the state police, county and local police departments not to accept these donations because of the impact such military equipment would have on our communities.
Corruption is yet another story. Corruption infects many of New Jersey’s governmental institutions and is difficult to extract from NJ government. I would promise not to take any money from corporations or Political Action Committees, as the presence of big money only invites more corruption.
Q. You recently introduced your running mate, Heather Warburton for Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey. Can you share a little more about your decision?
I am truly excited by the prospect of campaigning with Heather Warburton. Heather has been associated with the Greens for the past few years, including a stint as its co-chair. She is a skilled media person, having produced her own show, “Wine, Women and Revolution,” for many years. Her interests coincide with my own, including a strong concern about flooding in New Jersey, not just on the shoreline but inland as well. We share a belief that many of the problems we face here in New Jersey must be addressed immediately – whether that problem is climate change or fighting against racism or discrimination against the LGBTQIA community. Heather is well-known in South Jersey, so that means we’ll have an opportunity to talk to many communities about our platform, increasing our coverage and name recognition throughout the state.
Q. I would like to conclude our conversation by asking: What is one thing that may surprise people to learn about you?
During the past 8 years, I have studied both Arabic and Spanish. I studied Arabic for about 5 years and have now studied Spanish intensely for almost a year and a half. I am embarking on a research project in Colombia investigating the resistance of campesinos, indigenous and Afro-Colombians to multinationals’ efforts to control what is produced and how, instead of allowing those who have worked the land for generations to sustain themselves and their communities from their own labor, while also maintaining their way of life.
I love learning about cultures and histories different from our own here in the U.S. and believe in building peace and international solidarity. In that spirit, I have been to Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the U.S. dropping an atomic bomb on both cities. I have been to Russia and Ukraine, Palestine, Israel, Tunisia, Syria and Afghanistan. This enables me to make real my compassion and empathy for others.
Alie Pierce has been covering the 2021 NJ gubernatorial campaign since 2020. Pierce is a human rights activist and advocate. Follow Alie Pierce on Twitter.
Send tips, coverage, feedback, interest to become a WNJ guest contributor, and correction requests to us via our contact form.
Subscribe For Free Today
When you subscribe to WeekenderNJ, you’re supporting the work of writers, journalists, photojournalists, creators and neighbors who provide deep reported journalism and stories, examining the issues, and giving voice to our community on issues and forces shaping the world. Join theconversation by subscribing to WeekenderNJ today.