Feb. 7, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

N.J. 9th District Race Pits County Vs. County

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Bill Pascrell (above) is facing off against fellow Democratic Rep. Steven Rothman in a June 5 primary for New Jersey’s 9th district.

The local TV news has all but ignored the race. There are no campaign billboards around the district, and yard signs are generally confined to the candidates’ bases.

Still, for those who are plugged in, the race borne out of redistricting is a cause and a point of resentment.

Rothman did not live in the new district until a couple of months ago. He moved there after his Fair Lawn home was drawn just outside the new district lines.

Pascrell supporters argue that Rothman should have run in the 5th district against GOP Rep. Scott Garrett. But that district favors Republicans, while the 9th is a safe Democratic seat.

“This is my home district that I’ve represented for the last 16 years in Congress, where I was born, raised, lived most of my life, was the mayor of Englewood,” Rothman argues.

Pascrell and his supporters, meanwhile, express indignation with Rothman’s decision.

At a Bergen County house party, Pascrell described learning over the phone from Rothman of his decision to run in the 9th.  

“He told me how much he loves me,” Pascrell said with a sarcastic laugh. “With friends like that, who needs enemies?”

Pascrell’s supporters are more visceral. They call Rothman names and say he lacks the courage to face Garrett.

“I don’t know what went through his head,” said Passaic County activist Angel LaBoy to a crowd of Pascrell supporters. “He was supposed to fight a Republican in his area, and I think he got a little scared and came over here, jumped the fence like the pitbulls.”

Rothman is far less combative. When informed of the harsh comments, there is a flash of sadness in his eyes. But he makes no pretense that a friendship still exists. He now describes his and Pascrell’s interactions as “cordial.”

There is little upside to this race and its outcome for Democrats. For both men, a friendship is probably over, and it will likely mean the end of a political career. For House Democrats, it guarantees the elimination of a party elder. And for one of the counties, it means the loss of one of their own in Congress.

But the grim reality is that it’s the nature of politics in New Jersey, and the two men push ahead.

“My parents taught me that you never start fights,” Pascrell said. “But you finish them. You finish them.”

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