Grassroots organization hosts Zinna, McCormick at candidates forum

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Local residents got up close and personal March 30 with Tenafly Councilman Mark Zinna and small business owner Lisa McCormick, two Democrats who are hoping to win their party’s nomination for governor of New Jersey.

Zinna and McCormick addressed a crowd of approximately 60 people at Above Restaurant and Bar in South Orange as part of a “Meet the Governor” candidates forum sponsored by SOMADEMS.

“We were hoping to give Mark Zinna and Lisa McCormick the opportunity to address the South Orange and Maplewood communities as we believe that all candidates should have the chance to get their points across,” SOMADEMS co-founder Larry Hirsch said in a press release. “I thought it was a very informative discussion of the issues.”

New Jersey state Sen. Ray Lesniak was invited to Thursday’s forum but did not attend.

Zinna told residents that he is running for governor because he was disappointed in the 2016 presidential election.

“I decided that I couldn’t stand by and just yell at the television,” he said. “I needed to continue with public service in a stronger and deeper way.”

He said that his six years of experience on the Tenafly Borough Council would help him manage the state because he knows what it’s like to live in the real world.

“We don’t have an unlimited pot of gold. We don’t borrow money recklessly. We have to pay our bills and balance our budgets,” he said. “We pave roads, we pay police officers, we figure out how to hire people and how to make decisions that affect everyday people’s lives.”

Zinna said that when there are potholes in his town, his constituents call him directly.

“I’m very sensitive about people paying lots of taxes and not being happy with their services,” he said. “As your governor, I would be extremely sensitive.”

Zinna said that as governor he would, among other things, spend more on public transportation, encourage municipal consolidation, fully fund the current school funding formula, implement a system for college students to borrow tuition money interest-fee, and create a single-payer health care system for all residents of New Jersey.

McCormick told the crowd that she also decided to run after being upset at the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

“I’m watching TV like the rest of us and I see Donald Trump as the nominee and I think, there has to be a better candidate,” McCormick said in the release, explaining that when it came time to choose a new governor in New Jersey, she felt the same way. “I was not inspired by any of the candidates. I was looking for someone who I could endorse and I could vote for and I didn’t see anybody.”

McCormick said she is running to give people a choice.

“I’m not one of those people who put $13 million dollars in my own campaign,” she said. “I’m not one of the typical candidates. In fact, I come here tonight and I think: How can I compete? I’m not that polished of a speaker. I just feel like, you know, I’m just a regular person, like all of you.”

McCormick said that as governor she would work to improve health care, transportation and the economy.

Ajiya Doka, 20, a Seton Hall University junior and president of the Seton Hall College Democrats, moderated the event. Doka, of Rockville, Md., is also program director for the College Democrats of New Jersey and youth coordinator for SOMADEMS.

“I thought it went really well,” Doka said in the press release. “It was great for these candidates to come and share their vision for New Jersey.”

The forum was the second in a series planned by the group in order to give South Orange and Maplewood residents a chance to meet the various Democratic candidates for governor.

SOMADEMS’ first “Meet the Governor” candidates forum on March 2 featured New Jersey state Assemblyman John Wisniewski and former assistant U.S. Treasury Secretary Jim Johnson, and drew more than 250 people to the South Orange Performing Arts Center.

The series’ third forum is scheduled for April 25 at the Woodland in Maplewood and will feature former U.S. ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy and retired firefighter Bill Brennan.

“Part of SOMADEMS’ mission is to inform the people who live here about the important elections and issues affecting our community,” Hirsch said. “Bringing these candidates here allows our residents to learn about and make an informed decision when they go to vote.”

New Jersey’s primary election for the governor’s race is June 6 and the general election is Nov. 7. Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, is term-limited and can’t run for a third term.

SOMADEMS, which stands for South Orange and Maplewood Democrats, is a grassroots political group that was started to support Democratic candidates and progressive issues important to Democrats in the towns of South Orange and Maplewood on the local, state and federal level. The group includes more than 1,300 politically active residents. It’s one of a growing number of local political groups that have sprung up in the last year to harness a sharp increase in political activism.