“Leaders lead and real leadership means hearing the voices of the other New Jersey,” declared State Senator Barbara Buono on Saturday in kicking off her long-shot bid to unseat popular Gov. Chris Christie. “The hardworking men and women who’ve been unemployed or underemployed for years, and who’ve gotten nothing — nothing — but sound bites and empty promises from a governor who seems more intent on courting his right-wing base than tending to the needs of the middle-class and working poor.”
The 59-year-old lawmaker’s speech to cheering supporters at New Brunswick High School was her first major campaign appearance since indicating late last year that she would run.
The daughter of an Italian immigrant butcher who died when she was in her teens, Buono became the Democratic frontrunner almost by default when several high-profile members of her party, including Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Senate President Stephen Sweeney of Gloucester, shied away from what most observers expect to be a very difficult race against the increasingly popular Christie, whose approval ratings surged following Hurricane Sandy.
Focusing primarily on pocketbook issues, Buono told the standing room only crowd on Saturday that she would fight for middle-income and working-class New Jerseyans. “We’re here today to put an end to a philosophy as tired as it is disproven – the notion that our economic problems can all be solved if only we ask the middle class and the working poor to sacrifice more so that the wealthy can become even richer,” she said.
The Metuchen lawmaker, a mother of six who worked her way through college — earning an undergraduate degree from Montclair State College and a law degree from Rutgers School of Law in 1979 — before winning a seat on the Metuchen Borough Council and eventually working her way up the political ladder to become New Jersey’s first female Senate Majority Leader, is expected to face only token opposition in the June 4th Democratic primary.
With an adoring media and more than $2.6 million in his campaign coffers, Christie will certainly be difficult to beat. A Quinnipiac University poll released last month, which gave him a whopping 74 percent approval rating, showed the colorful New Jersey governor leading his Democratic challenger by a 63 percent to 22 percent margin.
Yet Buono believes that Christie, who’s anything but camera shy, has been vastly overrated and that closer scrutiny of his record could change things dramatically between now and November.
She might be right. This could very well be a single-digit race by late October.
That record, says Buono, includes the highest jobless rate in the region and one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation, second only to Florida. She will also remind voters that the state’s credit rating was lowered on Christie’s watch and that — recklessly adhering to his party’s widely discredited trickle-down philosophy — he vetoed a surtax on millionaires a couple of years ago, not to mention his callous veto just last week of a modest increase in the minimum wage.
“On every economic measure,” she says, “the governor’s record is one of failure.”
A progressive with a fiercely independent streak that has occasionally put her at odds with her own party’s leadership, Buono also believes the Republican incumbent is woefully out of step with a majority of the state’s electorate on a wide range of social issues, pointing to the governor’s opposition to abortion rights and his veto of marriage equality legislation last February.
Buono, who grew up in a working-class neighborhood and pulled herself up from her bootstraps, is precisely the kind of underdog Americans love. Anybody who thinks Gov. Christie will win in a cakewalk this November, might be in for a huge surprise.