Last week I sat down with Jack Ciattarelli, a politician, businessman, and New Jersey gubernatorial candidate in the 2021 election.
Jack and Melinda Ciattarelli, at the Cuba Liberation Rally, North Bergen, July 13, 2021. (Photo Courtesy/Jack Ciattarelli)
During our conversation, which has been slightly edited for clarity, Ciattarelli
talks about his inspiration to run for public office, his passion for New Jersey, and what type of administration he would run, if elected.
Ciattarelli is running on the Republican ticket. This isn’t his first Republican party run. He ran for governor in 2017, and came in second in the gubernatorial primary, with 31% of the vote, behind eventual nominee Kim Guadagno, who had 47%.
This summer in an election that is heating up, all eyes are on the 2.4 million unaffiliated voters, which is almost as many as registered Democrats.
New Jersey and Virginia are the only states with a gubernatorial election this year.
Even though Ciattarelli has been in the political arena for years where he has acquired a wealth of political and business knowledge that propelled his career, he comes off as down to earth and approachable.
With the recent the controversial quote made by Ciattarelli at the Cuba Liberation Rally, Friday, stating “We’re not teaching sodomy in the sixth grade,” we reached out to the campaign for comment and received the following statement from Ciattarelli’s communications director, Stami Williams:
“I hear from parents across the state – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents – who are angry that extremists like Governor Murphy are infringing on their right as parents to educate their children about life’s most personal and intimate topics – and then trying to shame them when they dare speak up,” said Ciattarelli.“All schools should be promoting diversity, inclusivity, tolerance, and respect for others, but that doesn’t mean pushing explicit subjects in elementary school classrooms. As a candidate and as governor, I will always fight for what is right and be a champion for parental rights.”
“Love is love, and who you love is no business of your governor. And resources should be made available to students who want to understand themselves as they grow into adults. We should not, however, encourage the abdication of parenting or expect teachers to replace parents. Let me be clear, as governor, nothing we do or teach in our public schools will ever supplant the role and responsibility of parents.”
RUNNING FOR ELECTION DURING A GLOBAL PANDEMIC
Q. What made you run again for office? And has the pandemic changed how you run your campaign?
I'm running for office, because the state that I love is broken, and I have some very specific ideas on how to fix it. We need much more responsible fiscal policy, dynamic tax policy, and we need to make New Jersey a place where people feel confident that they can achieve their American dream. We need New Jersey to be a place where the working poor can find the middle class, where the middle class can get ahead, where our seniors can retire, where young people can get started, and where people feel confident they can start a business and be successful. That's not the New Jersey we have right now. It needs to change.
Q. If you’re elected - What type of Governor will you be? Will you reach across the aisle to work with democrats for the good of our state?
I'm very competitive, so the campaign is all about winning. But the day after the election, it's time to govern. And I've always had relationships and mutual respect with those on the other side of the aisle.
ON PROPERTY TAXES
New Jersey's taxes are the country's highest - What type of relief can New Jerseyans see if you’re elected? And where will the money to achieve this come from?
The quickest way to lower property taxes in New Jersey is with a new school funding formula. The current formula is nefarious, arbitrary, unfair, and I'll go as far as to say unconstitutional. We need a flatter and more equitable distribution of state aid for schools that will lower property taxes.
ON AFFORDABLE HOUSING
On affording - This is a two part question.
Most New Jersey renters are either living paycheck to paycheck, or currently on unemployment, unable to afford the high cost of housing, while also concerned about over-development, and lack of affordable housing. How can affordable housing be brought back for all residents?
We desperately need more affordable housing in New Jersey, particularly for young people trying to get started, disabled people, veterans and senior citizens. The way New Jersey is doing, is just crazy. It's the reason why we have overdevelopment. I'd like to work with the legislature to take a much more smart growth approach to providing affordable housing for our citizens.
ON FIRST TIME HOUSELESS IN NEW JERSEY
New Jersey courts have a massive backlog of roughly 60,000 (number represents only head of the household) renters cases filed between April 2020 - March 2021, who will face evictions in the next couple of months. What steps would you take to reverse homelessness and bankruptcy experienced for the first time by families, at no fault of their own?
I believe the state of New Jersey needs to work in close partnership with every one of our 21 counties to address homelessness in our communities. And that includes providing appropriate homeless shelters. We should not be a state in which we see the homeless lying on our streets, and curbs. We desperately need to address this issue.
In March the reported unemployment number was 7.2 percent, and that while only counting unemployed New Jerseyans who collect unemployment. What steps would you take to bring jobs back to New Jersey, suitable to people's background and interests?
We need a tax code in New Jersey that makes us not only regionally competitive, but a very compelling place to start a new business. Only then will we be able to create more good paying jobs. As an MBA CPA, and someone who's owned two main street businesses, I know exactly what needs to be done to our tax code to make New Jersey more regionally competitive, and a very compelling place to do business so we can create more jobs.
Q. I would like to stay on Unemployment for a moment - We have been inundated with residents reaching out for assistance regarding not being able to obtain NJ unemployment benefits from 3 month to a year, although each person is eligible, while the labor commissioner continues to remain somehow immune from being held accountable for all his shortcomings. If elected, will you hold your administration accountable for their shortcomings?
Time and again, the Murphy administration, as demonstrated in competency during the pandemic. It's during a crisis that leadership is truly tested. I believe Phil Murphy has failed that test. Not only will my administration, and every single one of our state workers be accountable, they'll show up to work and do what it is they're supposed to do, which is to serve the citizens of New Jersey. How many times have we heard of people not receiving their unemployment benefits month after month, after month and not being able to get somebody on the phone at the Department of Labor? This is a failure of leadership.
Q. The NJ Labor department (and nation) only reports the percentage of New Jerseyans who currently receive benefits, thus missing reporting the true unemployment number in our state. Would you be in favor of modernizing our state to be able not only to reflect the true unemployment numbers, but to also be able to partner up New Jerseyans who exhausted their unemployment benefits with further resources in order for them to find suitable jobs?
The state government, its systems and its various reporting all need to be modernized. And that includes Department of Labor numbers specific to unemployment. One thing the pandemic has clearly revealed is just how antiquated our government systems are in Trenton. As governor, I will modernize those systems to provide the kind of data we need to make the right policy decisions.
Q. New Jersey currently ranks number 49 out of 50 states, when it comes to barriers in opening a new business. What would you do to help entrepreneurs to start their own businesses vs. having to leave the state in pursuit of better opportunities?
The first thing we need to do is change our tax policies to make New Jersey a much more attractive place to not only do business, but to start a business. An example of one of the planks in my platform is the first $50,000 of business income being tax free. The other thing we need to do is create a better incubator system in our colleges and universities. In partnership with the state, I believe that we can dedicate resources at our colleges and universities that allow entrepreneurs to get an easier start in the hope that their idea evolves into a viable company that employs New Jerseyans.
One of your campaign promises is to place the State Department of Transportation and the Motor Vehicle Commission under one roof. Can you talk a little bit about what this would mean? How do you plan to achieve this?
One idea is to take all of our mass transit systems that generate revenue and put them under one roof, so that there is greater accountability and a more efficient distribution of the revenues generated to address the various priorities. We have toll roads, we have New Jersey Transit, and we have gas taxes. Let's put all of those revenues into one agency to improve accountability, and better distribute the revenues generated to whatever our most urgent priorities are.
Q. Governor Murphy made a lot of promises coming into office, including solving the long NJ Transit corruption issues. Instead, there have been ongoing NJ transit corruption allegations from advocates and even from a whistleblower. Will you be in favor of investigating the conflict of interests by the CEO, Transportation Commissioner and the NJ Transit Board of Directors?
Phil Murphy is the typical politician who makes promises that he doesn't keep as governor. There will be no corruption in my administration. Any hint of it, will be fully investigated. Unfortunately, we've seen corruption time and again in the Murphy administration. But then again, that all started with his campaign even before he was governor, with the allegations of women being violated, bullied and discriminated against. I think we're gonna leave it at that.
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?
Climate change is real. We need a rational transition to alternative energy sources that provides zero carbon emissions. I suppose, we support New Jersey's nuclear power, energy, which produces 40% of our electricity at zero carbon emissions. I do believe from an energy policy standpoint, we need to be careful not to go too fast too soon. As new and emerging technologies continue to evolve, I really do believe that we'll be in a very different place 10 years from now, with regard to, for example, advanced micro nuclear, geothermal and hydro power. As governor, I will work with the other 49 governors and the president to make sure that we've got a national energy policy that works for all states, works for our country, and in partnership with other countries around the world. What I can't have happened here in New Jersey is us doing things from an energy policy standpoint that puts us at an economic disadvantage. We need to all be in this together.
RELATIONS WITH NEW JERSEYANS
Q. For those undecided New Jerseyans who associate the republican party with former President, Donald Trump, and an insurrection on our Capitol, could you briefly share your views of where you stand on this matter?
Donald Trump's policies were good for the nation. He played hardball with China. He moved the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He provided border security. He won the war on ISIS. He provided a fantastic economy, and he nominated conservative supreme court justices. So, the policies were good for the nation. This year, the election is all about New Jerseyans. If Phil Murphy wants to continue to talk about Donald Trump, all he's trying to do is distract people from his own failed record here in New Jersey.
Q. How would you address the constituents who demand police accountability in the state, who oppose your views on Law enforcement? And what would you do to build a relationship between police officers and the communities they serve?
I never shy away from meeting with and listening to people who disagree with me. My job as governor would be to listen. At the same time, I don't know of anyone in New Jersey that disagrees with me on what it is we need to do in our communities to provide for public safety. We need a governor and Attorney General that supports our local police. We're not going to disband. We're not going to defund, and we're not going to disarm our local police whose job has never been harder. People want safe and secure communities. Local police are integral to providing that. I believe it should be easier to get rid of a bad cop, and I will work toward that. Do I believe we need more women cops? Yes. Do I believe we need more black and brown people as cops? Yes. Do I believe we need more cultural competency as part of the continuing professional development for cops? Yes, I do. At the same time, these cops need to know that the governor and Attorney General have their back. That's not the case today. And it's one of the reasons why we're seeing spikes in crime all throughout New Jersey.
MINORITIES AND HATE CRIMES
Q. Regarding hate crimes – There has been an increase in hate crimes in our state. What type of governor can black, asian, immigrants, lgbtq and disability communities expect? And do you plan to address and protect these residents?
What the people of New Jersey can expect from me as governor, is someone who promotes the beauty and power of New Jersey's diversity. The demographic of this country has been changing for 245 years and will continue to do so.That's what makes us America. I believe – and this will be reflected in my public school curriculum proposals – that’s what we should promote. What we should advocate for is inclusion, mutual respect, tolerance, and again, the power and beauty of diversity.
RELATIONS WITH MEDIA
Q. This is a two part question - Do you believe that public officials should be available to all media? And if you're elected, are you going to be transparent and available to all media?
The press has been referred to at times as the fourth branch of government that helps the government achieve transparency. I believe in transparency, I believe in the role of the press. I look forward to as governor a robust partnership with the press in terms of providing transparency.
Q. I would like to conclude our conversation by asking: At WeekenderNJ, we do what we love, thus every single day is a weekend. What is one of your favorite things to do on Weekends?
In July and August. It's a day at the beach in Surf City on Long Beach Island, where we've owned a summer home for 23 years. If it's wintertime, I certainly enjoy sitting by the fireplace in our home, located in Hillsborough township, watching a good movie.
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