New Jersey: Rabbi Officially Enters Race for Garrett’s Seat

Posted November 14, 2007 at 6:25pm

Dennis Shulman (D), a Harvard-educated psychologist and ordained rabbi who has been blind since he was a teenager, formally announced Wednesday that he will challenge Rep. Scott Garrett (R).

“I am running for Congress as a concerned citizen seeking to become a citizen legislator,” Shulman, who hails from Bergen County, said in a conference call with reporters. “Too often the relationship between Congressmen and lobbyists is closer than the relationship between Congressmen and constituents. … We can and must do better.”

If elected, Shulman would be the first blind Member of Congress since 1941.

Asked if he was worried about being defined by his unique background during the campaign, Shulman replied, “I would hate if it stayed as ‘the blind psychologist rabbi’ … something like a gimmick. … But if it’s a means of getting the message out … then I would say I welcome it.”

Although it includes several liberal communities, the 5th district still leans Republican; President Bush won the district with 57 percent of the vote in 2004. And though he probably is more conservative than most of his constituents, Garrett won by 11 points in 2006 over Paul Aronsohn (D), a former top aide to ex-Gov. Jim McGreevey (D).

This year Shulman will have to compete with attorney Camille Abate, who lost the 2006 Democratic primary to Aronsohn but has decided to run again. Other Democratic names also are still being floated for the race.

After opening a Congressional committee in September, Shulman raised a little less than $50,000 through the end of that month. Garrett spent almost $1.1 million on his re-election in 2006, and Shulman said a $2 million campaign might not be out of the question this cycle.

Shulman said he does have some personal wealth but declined to say how much he could invest in the campaign. Meantime, he said his campaign is raising money from around the district and trying to entice the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Carrie James, a DCCC spokeswoman, said that while the committee does not plan to endorse a candidate in the primary, “we believe that Congressman Garrett has reason to worry about his future.”

— John McArdle