I recently read an article in New Jersey Globe that said, incorrectly, that when the New Jersey Republican plan for Congressional Redistricting was enacted and presented as a fait accompli to the New Jersey Congressional Delegation in December 2011, that I considered running in their gerrymandered 5th Congressional District, but ultimately decided to run in my home 9th Congressional District, because I thought I would lose a race in the 5th. Not true.
There were plenty of political experts who said that, because of my positive name recognition in Bergen County, I could win enough votes in that part of the 5th to prevail over Scott Garrett in a 2012 race. But as a 60 year old, 8 termer, who was sitting on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, that had enabled me to bring unprecedented billions to the 9th and other parts of New Jersey, I believed that surely even the Republican redistricters wouldn’t throw that away for partisan gain. But I was wrong.
The truth is that I rejected running in the 5th because the 9th was my home district where I was born and raised, was Mayor of my hometown of Englewood there, and had served my entire 16 years in Congress in the 9th. Also, my progressive-liberal record for those 16 years, as of 2012, would have required me to back off the policies I believed in, just to get elected in the 5th. I refused to do that.
For example, I did not want to have to apologize for or abandon my support for Obamacare; a Public Option; Medicare for All; a Woman’s Right to Choose; Reasonable Gun Control; Comprehensive Immigration Reform; Tax Fairness for the 99% of Americans who did not receive the lion’s share of the deficit-exploding Republican tax cuts under the Republican administrations of Christie Todd Whitman, Chris Christie, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush; Gender and Marriage Equality; Smart Land, Energy Use and Conservation; or to explain my support for Barack Obama for the Democratic Party’s Primary nomination over Hillary Clinton; or to defend my vote against the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that lent banks hundreds of billions of dollars, but would not do so for average homeowners underwater; Etc.
I remember that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee asked me if I wanted to have help paying for a poll in the 5th district to see if I might win there. I told them not to waste their money, that I had respect for the people of the 5th, but I did not want to run there, period.
I made this decision knowing that the Republican-dominated New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Committee had just removed 7 of the largest Democratic vote-producing municipalities I had been representing from my 9th District (the Jersey City, North Bergen, and Kearny sections of the District; Fairview, Hackensack, Fair Lawn and two-thirds of Teaneck) and moved major Passaic County cities and towns (Paterson, Passaic and Clifton, Haledon and Prospect Park) into the 9th.
Just because the New Jersey Republican Party eviscerated my old 9th District, I still wanted to represent the region and people I had grown up with and had represented for so long. If I was going to lose reelection, I would do so standing on my feet, fighting for my home 9th District and against a cynical and unfair partisan Republican plan.
In the end, given the weight of the removal of my major towns from this new, Republican-created district, as well as a solid campaign by Bill Pascrell and his team, I was defeated.
While I have missed the work of being a congressman, and certainly missed helping my 9th congressional district here in New Jersey and in Washington, D.C, I have long accepted the way things worked out, and continue to be grateful that I had the privilege of serving the people of the 9th as one of their mayors, their Bergen County Surrogate Court Judge, and 16 years as their Congressman in the United States House of Representatives. I was blessed to be able to serve them as an elected official for a total of 25 years and to realize great accomplishments in each office I was privileged to hold.
I write this letter so no one is under any mistaken impression about my decision to fight to continue to represent the 9th congressional district, even though the Republicans had radically altered it to try to force me to run in the 5th.
Steve Rothman represented New Jersey in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1997 to 2013. He is a former Mayor of Englewood and Bergen County Surrogate.