WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
The political fallout from New Jersey's recently completed congressional redistricting continues. The loss of a congressional seat for the Garden State, from 13 to 12 districts, has now set the stage for a nasty primary between two Democratic incumbents.
Democratic Congressman Steve Rothman from Bergen County has announced he will run for Congress in the newly constituted 9th District, which now includes much of Democratic incumbent Congressman Bill Pascrell’s neighboring 8th District, but not his own hometown of Fair Lawn.
“I have represented the Ninth Congressional District for the past 15 years and have lived here nearly my entire life. I look forward to continuing to represent this district,” Rothman said.
Montclair University Political Science Professor Bridget Harrison said his decision is a pragmatic one.
“Obviously what this means is a primary fight which tends to be a bit less expensive though obviously against two incumbents it is going to be pricey. It is an easier fight in some ways because of the new composition of the new ninth," said Harrison in a phone interview.
Last week, Congressman Pascrell said he would also run for newly created 9th District seat. In the re-mapping, Rothman lost much of his district to Republican Congressman Scott Garrett (R-5).
Pascrell, the former mayor of Paterson is 74 years old. Rothman, who is 60 years old served as Bergen County surrogate. Both men were elected to Congress in 1996 and are politically aligned on most issues. Rothman was an early backer of President Barack Obama’s presidential bid.
Harrison said a battle between conservative, Republican incumbent Garrett and liberal Rothman would have been a multi-million dollar race of national significance that would have drawn campaign contributions from across the country.
"What a Rothman-Garrett campaign means is a bloody nationally fought mess where you have a lot of national interests both on the side of the Democrats and the Republicans entering into this," she said.
Congressman Pascrell also vowed to run for re-election. “Everyone who knows me knows that I am a fighter who is ready for whatever may come. I will be as relentless in the election as I have been for my constituents. I do not know the meaning of the word quit," Pascrell said.
The new 9th gives Rothman an edge over Pascrell when it comes to the number of registered Democrats.
In the new boundaries of GOP Representative Garrett’s 5th District, which now includes much of Rothmans’s former district, Rothman would have been at a numerical disadvantage.
Peter Woolley, with Fairleigh Dickinson's Public Mind Poll, said Rothman's decision to not take on Garrett is a missed opportunity for Democrats nationally.
"It is a missed chance to unseat a very conservative Republican, a chance to use a little bit of president Obama's popularity in New Jersey to leverage a seat in the House which they sorely need," Woolley said in a phone interview.
Both Harrison and Woolley said their analysis shows that, in addition to pitting two Democratic incumbents against each other, the new congressional district boundaries were favorable for incumbent freshman Republican Congressman Jon Runyan, from southern Jersey and two-term GOP Congressman Leonard Lance, who represents towns along the I-78 corridor.