MONTCLAIR – Last night tensions soared as both gubernatorial candidates took the stage in the Kasser Theatre at Montclair State University. As spectators filtered into the theater to witness a clash between the Governor and Senator Buono, protesters chanted outside in support of their respective candidates, along with supporters of Diane Sare, an independent. The candidates faced off in the final debate that would make or break the votes of many New Jersey residents.
This debate was the last gubernatorial debate before voters head to the polls in November to choose which candidate will lead New Jersey. Voters felt this time around that the candidates gave better and more direct answers than last time, cementing their votes.
“I like that they talked about things that were important to people in New Jersey. I hope New Jerseyans go to vote and vote for what really matters to us,” says one voter after coming out of the debate. “I was surprised that we have 400,000 people out of work. That’s a high number. I hope we get a governor who cares about these important issues like jobs as well as education.”
Some of the questions from the previous debate were repeated, with the moderator opening up the debate by questioning Christie’s record for name calling. The same response was elicited as last time–Christie defended his methods saying that he is real and that’s what New Jerseyans are.
Choir Hymn of the Independent
Only several minutes into the debate, the candidates were interrupted by an audience member, who turned out to be Diane Sare. Sare is an independent candidate and the leader of a choral group, who also participated in the pre-debate rally, singing and chanting. Sare advocates for the reinstatement of the FDR-era Glass-Steagall Act, a bill created after the Great Depression to prevent banks from working in shady areas at the risk of the customers’ deposit funds.
She called for the impeachment of President Obama and said he hasn’t kept his promises since taking office, claiming he is damaging Medicare and Medicaid.
She also believes that people are voting for the mainstream politicians who all do the same thing.
“People need to stop voting for the lesser of two evils,” says Sare.
Tensions Heat up over Taxes
Christie and Buono battled over how taxes can be lowered and how each other’s plans just won’t work.
Buono was criticized for her plan to raise taxes on the wealthy; even the moderator questioned the fact that it would only create $650 million in tax revenue and that it wouldn’t be enough to create a balanced budget. Buono defended her plan by saying she would rework some of the contracts the state has to save money. She also criticized Christie, claiming he offered no-bid contracts after Sandy that cost the state excessive amounts of money.
Christie then claimed that Buono was in the pocket of some of the “Boardwalk Empire” bosses and referenced her endorsement of a former politician who was recently jailed on corruption charges. Buono immediately hit back by interrupting with, “That is a personal attack. I am in no one’s pocket.”
When it came to property taxes, both candidates offered their own plans and attacked the other’s, as per the usual. Christie said he wants to allow towns to consolidate resources and share services so that the lowering of costs will, in turn, drive down property taxes. Referencing the fact that the rise in taxes has slowed down, he defended his record and current policies.
“Basically what we’ve done is take a train that was moving at 100 mph and slowed it down to 20 mph.”
Taking the Candidates Back to School
Education remained a convoluted mess with no precise answers being given. Buono said part of her reworking of government contracts would save the state money. This would allow her to filter some of that and some of the millionaires tax towards reducing the costs of school. She reiterated her gratefulness for state universities and how they helped her succeed, but in the end no solidified plan to lower tuition costs was stated.
One panelist asked Christie why he recently changed his view on in-state tuition for voters, and if it was just a tactic to win the Latino vote. He said he was never against in-state tuition for the dreamers and other undocumented residents, but only found it appropriate when the state budget allowed for it. After straightening out the budget, he said he feels he can support in-state tuition.
Buono said she has always supported in-state tuition for immigrants. Being from an immigrant family herself, she feels that all the children deserve an equal opportunity when it comes to higher education.
“Barbara really spoke to me. She went to Montclair State University and went on to Rutgers, and she comes from immigrant parents just like myself, so I saw a lot of her in me. She was very inspiring,” says Maria Roman, a young Latina student.
Roman felt she got much more solid answers than last debate and said even though she is a Republican, she supports Buono, and doesn’t like many of the things Christie has done.
The candidates both fought hard this debate. Vying for the final sentiment, Buono remarked that she is often underestimated as a woman in politics.
“I am running as hard as I can because I am the one person who doesn’t underestimate you,” said Christie.