Voting Block: Outlooks could be brighter in governor’s race, New Brunswick residents agree

By Kelsi Brown, Ken Kurtulik, Dan Siegel

Hugging the Raritan River to the north and extending as far as three miles south, New Brunswick is home to a diverse population of about 57,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

With New Jersey on the verge of electing a new governor, the local community is speaking out about policy issues that matter to them. New Brunswick residents are most concerned with the strength of the economy, tax increases, and the environment.

NJ Spark — a social justice journalism lab at Rutgers University — will work with Voting Block, a statewide reporting effort intended to encourage civil political discussion and more informed voters, ahead of November’s gubernatorial election. As part of the project, several major news organizations are following groups of neighbors through the summer and fall as the race develops, holding events and online discussion groups.

NJ Spark is focusing on New Brunswick. Residents of various ages, races, ethnicities and political affiliations have agreed to participate.

Lisa Swyzen

Lisa Swyzen, 21, was born and raised in Belgium until the age of five. At five she and her family moved to New Jersey for a different life. Her parents, currently divorced, had three children together. Swyzen is the middle child of the three.

Swyzen’s older brother attended Rutgers University, which was part of the reason she enrolled. Swyzen is currently a senior at Rutgers University.

Freshmen year, Swyzen lived in the River Dorms on George Street. The next three years she moved from street to street, starting off on Huntington Street for a year before moving to Wyckoff Street. Currently, she lives on Guilden Street, which is a bit further back from campus.

Swyzen, who works at a bar and restaurant on Easton Street, plans to continue living in New Brunswick after graduation.

When it comes to the governor’s election, Swyzen said she is not a fan of either candidate.

Swyzen believes that the Republican candidate, Kim Guadagno, is two-faced and should not be trusted.

Swyzen also does not like the Democratic candidate, Phil Murphy, because she believes he is only looking out for people with money. She is against raising taxes and also against making the people of New Jersey pay a premium to live here. She fears this will especially mess with the town of New Brunswick. New Brunswick is not a wealthy town, and if property taxes go up, many people may lose their houses.

If she had to pick, Swyzen would choose Murphy. Even though he has said he would raise taxes, he is in favor of clean energy. Swyzen is in favor for anything that will benefit the environment.

Emily Davis

Emily Davis is a 20-year-old white female from New Jersey. She comes from a Jewish family that constantly visits Israel. Davis’s mother is a nurse and her father is in sales. Davis also has a 24-year-old sister who is an illustrator in Brooklyn.

Davis, a junior, spent her first year at Rutgers University living in a dorm, as most freshmen do. She enjoyed the introduction she received to life on-campus, but preferred to rent a house off-campus for her next few years.

For the past two years, Davis has lived on Wyckoff Street in New Brunswick. Her neighbors include fellow students as well as elderly people across the street. She has not had any trouble with neighbors thus far. She may move to a different street next year due to her housemates relocating but not due to neighbor issues.

Davis majors in mechanical engineering, one of the toughest majors Rutgers offers. Due to this, Emily spends a lot of time in the library or at office hours.

Even with her busy schedule, Davis is very involved in student life at Rutgers. Clubs she participates in include RJX, Rutgers Yoga and Reiki Club, and Rutgers Outdoor Club. Being involved with various clubs allows Davis to truly dive into the diversity of Rutgers students.

When it comes to the governor’s election, Emily does not like either candidate.

She believes that the Republican candidate, Kim Guadagno, is a liar and will manipulate people just to rise above and win the race. She also thinks Guadagno lied about her involvement with Chris Christie.

Davis is also against the Democratic candidate, Phil Murphy, since he plans to raise taxes. If Murphy wins and property taxes go up, this means landlords of New Brunswick will raise rent on their houses and apartments. This means even more money out of Davis’s pocket. Landlords have high enough prices as it is, so raising them would be bad for off-campus students. So not only will Davis have to pay an extra year of tuition which will probably also increase, but an extra year of steep living prices.

Vincent Ricifi

Vincent Rifici, 65, has lived in New Brunswick since attending graduate school at Rutgers 43 years ago. He was a faculty member at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School before he retired.

Rifici identifies as a Democrat and is favoring Phil Murphy for governor. Improving the economy is Rifici’s top concern. He said that no recent governor has made improving the state’s fiscal outlook a primary goal. The state must increase its revenue, he added.

Shielding immigrants from federal interference was another concern for Rifici.

“Immigrants are, at least in New Brunswick, a very valuable part of all levels of society: cultural and economic,” Rifici said.

New Jersey’s social programs should apply to everyone, he said, including both documented and undocumented immigrants.

Rifici was concerned about the state of education in New Jersey as well. He said he was attracted to the idea of consolidating municipalities and school districts.

There are presently 693 school districts across the state, according to the state Department of Education.

Rifici added that he did not like Gov. Chris Christie’s proposal that sought equalizing state funds between school districts regardless of academic need. Earlier this year, Gov. Chris Christie proposed a budget that would have funded schools at a flat, per pupil rate that gave no consideration to academic need. This “fairness formula” did not make it into the 2017–2018 budget.

Note: The following opinions represent those of Reynalda Cruz and Germania Hernandez respectively, and do not necessarily represent the official positions of New Labor as an organization.

Reynalda Cruz

Reynalda Cruz is a New Brunswick resident and has lived in the city for the past 20 years. Recognizing the many issues faced by immigrants in the workforce, she became a member of New Labor in 2007.

One issue that Cruz believes must be eliminated is that of wage theft towards undocumented workers, who she says are often mistreated, underpaid, and given no benefits. Cruz advocates for such workers.

“Workers often face wage theft, and we help them fight that,” she said of New Labor.

Cruz said that Gov. Chris Christie has been neglecting the voices of undocumented workers, and that this is why the New Jersey gubernatorial election must be taken seriously. She believes Phil Murphy, the Democratic candidate, will fight to change Christie’s current pattern.

Cruz believes that the Democratic Party is more likely to have the backs of undocumented workers, while Republican gubernatorial candidate, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, will likely maintain what she contends are Christie’s harmful policies.

Another of Cruz’s fundamental concerns is that of the state minimum wage, which she said must be increased to a livable salary.

Cruz added that she supports lowering the cost of university education, which is often crucial to succeeding in today’s economy. She explained that many immigrant workers, such as herself, face difficulty paying for education. She’s confident that Democrats such as Murphy would support breaking this cycle and lowering the cost of higher education.

Germania Hernandez

Germania Hernandez is a New Brunswick resident who has been working for New Labor since 2004. She moved here from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.

Since immigrating in pursuit of a sounder economic standing, she said, she’s noticed many ways that life here is challenging. Some of the main concerns she discussed are separation from her family and difficulty finding decent work.

Hernandez says she’s incredibly lucky to have found New Labor, a place where she can support herself and learn new things. She now asserts herself as more than just an immigrant: she’s an employee as well, advocating for those in similar positions. Doing so, she’s learned many things about the laws facing immigrant workers and her rights as one.

Hernandez hasn’t always been interested in politics. In the Dominican Republic, she said, political dilemmas have been so frequent and mainstream that participation in politics seemed arbitrary and surreal.

In the U.S, however, political involvement is an obligation and a right, she said. Proudly voting for the first time in November’s presidential election, Hernandez realized the significance of this. Although she isn’t sure if her freedom to vote will help make a positive difference, she takes pride in knowing that it’s now possible.

Becoming politically active helped Hernandez recognize the stakes at hand.

“Politicians decide where we’re going, and what exactly is going on,” she said.

She said she has learned that politicians must be elected who are truly willing to work with disenfranchised minorities, and are understanding of their struggles.

Until recently, Hernandez didn’t know very much about either candidate in the New Jersey gubernatorial election.

“I got to ask Phil Murphy a question about immigration once, and I liked the answers he gave,” she said. She believes that with Murphy, immigrants’ voices would be included in the decision-making process.

With the country’s current political trends, Hernandez believes that the narrative against immigrants is spiraling down a negative trajectory. While she doesn’t know much about Kim Guadagno, the Republican candidate for governor, she supports whatever candidate can counter this stereotyping in any way. In the current NJ gubernatorial race, she believes this is Murphy.

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