Rothman Challenge to Pascrell Could Dash Minority Hopes
Bergen Democrat's decision to run in the primary could upset coalition's hopes to eventually elect a minority in the 9th District -- unless a minority runs now.
By Mark Magyar, NJSpotlight.com
Thom Jackson, the president of the Garden State Bar Association, the state's leading organization of African-American lawyers, was ebullient two weeks ago after emerging from a meeting with New Jersey's Congressional Redistricting Commission.
"Both parties understand what we're looking for, and I'm confident we'll be pleased with the final map," Jackson said after he and Jerome Harris, chair of the state Black Issues Convention, and George Gore, political action chair of the New Jersey NAACP, met with the redistricting panel on December 21 to urge that provide an opportunity for the state to elect at least one more minority member of Congress before the end of the decade.
The group's goal was to make sure that the majority-minority cities of Paterson and Passaic and nearby communities with significant minority populations represented by Rep. William Pascrell (D-8), a former Paterson mayor, stayed together. Elected to Congress in 1996, Pascrell would turn 75 on January 25, 2012. "When Bill Pascrell retires, that seat will be occupied by a minority," Jackson asserted.
Now he's not so sure. In fact, Jackson suggested, it might make sense for a minority candidate to enter the race now.
That's because Pascrell is now facing a challenge from Rep. Steve Rothman, a 59-year-old Bergen County Democrat who announced he would move into Pascrell's district to run against him in the primary rather than take on Rep. Scott Garrett, the state's most conservative Republican congressman, in the newly configured 5th District.
"Rothman would certainly make it more difficult if he wins because it's difficult to beat an incumbent," Jackson said yesterday. "Energizing minority voters for a primary if you have to take on a Rothman head-on and you cannot self-fund your campaign would be very difficult."
Jackson, a Morristown lawyer, suggested that the new political developments in the 9th District argued for a strong minority candidate to enter the primary and turn it into a three-way race.
"This might be the best opportunity we have," he said. "Maybe while those two powerhouses [Rothman and Pascrell] are going at it, the right minority candidate could get in there and win a three-way race."
Whether a grass-roots campaign by a minority candidate in a primary against Rothman, who already has $1.74 million in the bank, and Pascrell, with $1.43 million on hand, is a real question, however.