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NORTHVALE, N.J.—Five candidates for the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ5) in the November general election made their cases before party leaders and a couple dozen Republican voters Feb. 26 at an informal party fundraiser in Northvale.
Sponsored by Northvale Republican Committee, the five candidates appeared at Madeleine’s Petit Paris, Northvale, and raised pressing concerns such as defeating Gottheimer, border security, better inclusion of minority voters, preventing socialism, the “broken” health care system, and pledging support for President Donald Trump’s reelection in 2020.
The five candidates hoping to win the Republican nod to challenge Gottheimer included Montvale Mayor Michael Ghassali, and former 2018 5th District Republican nominee John McCann, along with four newcomers.
Both Ghassali and McCann are the race’s top fundraisers: Ghassali has raised $862,000, including $600,000 of his own funds, while McCann has raised $126,553, self-funding $57,716 of that total, according to Federal Election Commission records. Frank Pallotta, a Mahwah resident and retired financial executive, has raised $510,899, with $290,000 self-funded, FEC records show.
Other candidates vying for the nomination are: James Baldini, a Newton middle-school teacher; and Hector Castillo, a doctor who immigrated to America when he was 11. Baldini has raised $1,388 and Castillo has raised $1,000.
Candidates who briefly indicated interest but have dropped out include state Assemblyman Robert Auth of Old Tappan and Closter Mayor John Glidden. Paul Duggan, a 2015 state senate Republican candidate and one-time county Freeholders candidate, is now a Conservative Party candidate for the Fifth District seat.
Gottheimer’s second term
Gottheimer is in the final year of his second two-year term in Congress, after having defeated longtime Republican Congressman Scott Garrett in 2016. Over the last three years, the 44-year-old Gottheimer has carved out a reputation as a centrist who co-chairs the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bi-partisan group of 42 congress members. During his time in Washington, he’s pushed legislative efforts to remove lead from drinking water in schools and homes, and worked to abolish the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions imposed by President Donald Trump’s 2018 Tax Cut and Jobs Act.
He faces a challenge from Glen Rock Councilwoman Arati Kreibich, a progressive, in the June 2 primary. Gottheimer has amassed $3.45 million in political donations for his campaign; Kreibach has collected $170, 025, according to FEC records.
The Northvale event offered the five GOP candidates an opportunity to win Republican support prior to the county Republican party’s county convention on March 23.
June 2 primary looms
Even if not selected, a Republican candidate may still choose to run in the June 2 primary but not on the Republican line.
This year, Gottheimer’s path to a third term faces challenges from Republicans anxious to oust the two-term congressman.
‘God, family and country’
Hector Castillo, who immigrated to the United States at 11 from Peru, said he “believes in God, family and country” and called out the Democrats for “trying to destroy the president.”
He spoke to the charges of collusion with Russia on alleged election interference, which were followed by articles of impeachment and impeachment by the U.S. House of Representatives, and acquittal in the U.S. Senate.
“Let [Trump] do his work,” said Castillo.
Castillo said the Republican party needs to better reach out to minority communities. He said the 5th District is composed of 45 percent registered Republicans, 42 percent registered Democrats, and the remainder minorities and independents.
He urged Republicans, “To open this tent, we have to bring all the minorities in. Otherwise, we’re going to start losing all these elections because the Democrats have convinced the minorities that this is the party of the rich and the white,” said Castillo. “And that’s not so, and we know it’s not so.”
He said if Republicans can get their message across to minority voters in the cities, “you win and you win forever.”
“Guys, wake up, wake up and smell the roses. Go where the minorities [and independents are] and get them here,” he said.
Castillo said Republicans “have to do something positive” for minorities to win their votes. He said he was sure Trump would win again in 2020 and noted he knew Trump was going to win in 2016 because he campaigned on the theme “What do you have to lose?” in minority communities.
He said if someone arrived today from the past, maybe 40 years ago, “and we have a candidate who’s kissing his husband after a debate, a crazy man that thinks that Castro is a nice guy, and then you have Mikey [Bloomberg], who wants to buy everyone out. That’s not democracy, I don’t know what that is,” said Castillo.
“We have two choices: Trump and let’s get that spineless Gottheimer out.”
Montvale Mayor Michael Ghassali, who came to America as an immigrant from Syria in the 1980s, decried the specter of socialism, and strongly advocated for secure borders and health care price transparency. He ran for Montvale Borough Council in 2010 and in 2015 he ran for mayor as an Independent and defeated a Republican incumbent.
He said Montvale has welcomed 100 new businesses and 4,000 new jobs since he has been mayor.
He said he “came to America the legal way” and became a U.S. citizen in 1987.
“The freedom that I never had when I was back in Syria nobody can take away from me,” he said.
He said America “is the greatest country on Earth” and warned against socialism coming to America, via Bernie Sanders, the progressive senator from Vermont who leads a crowded Democratic field seeking to challenge Trump this November.
“We have to make sure that we don’t let the left destroy what we have… Socialism, they have no clue what socialism is,” said Ghassali. “I know because I lived it. I waited on the bread line, when you wait for hours.”
He said what really “scares me is that there are millions and millions of young kids following Sanders and they have no clue” about socialism and its impacts.
He said “a country without borders is not a country” and said 12 million people are currently in America that have entered illegally.
“We must have secure borders, we must have strong immigration policies,” he said.
Ghassali called health care in America “broken” and called for price transparency so people know what the charges are for common illnesses.
‘Learned a lot’
McCann, who served nine years on Cresskill’s Borough Council and was 2018’s Republican challenger to Gottheimer, said he “learned a lot” about running for Congress.
“It’s a very different type of campaign than one would expect for a municipal election,” he said.
He said “socialism is anathema to all of us” and that “socialism is a real danger to the country.”
He said a family tragedy—his dad being shot—got him involved in politics when he saw the suspected shooter “walked away after a three-week trial.”
McCann said he supports additional individual tax cuts, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enforcing immigration laws, prohibiting sanctuary cities, and strong border security, including building a wall along the U.S. southern border.
He said the Republicans need a good congressional candidate “to replace a faker” and said his “Republican credentials” are unimpeachable for nearly 30 years.
‘Number one issue’
He said “the number one issue facing America” is health care. He said he developed a “Health Care Plan for America” that focuses on insurance companies and is the “only candidate” to come out with a health plan.
“If we don’t fix it, our kids are not going to have an economy,” he said, noting health care comprises 20 percent of U.S. annual gross domestic product. He said he has “a personal stake” in fixing health care because his wife is a doctor and his oldest daughter is a second-year medical student.
He said he was the only Republican candidate that can honestly say he’s been a supporter of Trump since 2016.
Frank Pallotta, a Mahwah resident, said he co-founded a small business to help homeowners and veterans affected by the mortgage crisis after retiring in 2008.
He previously worked for Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley. He said he volunteered at the U.S. Treasury Department following retirement and assisted during the mortgage crisis.
Pallotta said during that time he realized the importance of public and private sector partnerships to help during the home foreclosure crisis.
“I’m proud to say that I have the exact same political experience as Donald Trump and I think it makes a lot of sense,” he said.
He said the 5th District was “a big company with four divisions: Warren, Sussex, Bergen, Passaic. And that’s how I want to treat this job. That’s how I want to go after it,” said Pallotta.
He said it is the 5th District congressman’s job “to listen here and talk in D.C.” for the approximate 734,000 district residents. At press time, Pallotta was awarded the Republican County line on ballots in Passaic County by the Passaic County Regular Republican Organization Executive Committee.
According to James Baldini, a middle school teacher and Newton resident, “We need to have our own [Republican] wave across New Jersey… I’m the ordinary average person, the person who is struggling to pay their bills. The person who is struggling to make ends meet. I am working with those people every day,” he said.
He said two families left his school district “due to taxes in this state.”
He said “we need to take back our state and the only way to do that is if you have people who are willing to be like Trump.”
He said this means “breaking down the Blue Wall” and noted ordinary citizens need to “feel connected” to the Republican candidate.
“I come to you as somebody who is working in the communities,” he said, and pointed out he’s not a lawyer or from a high-finance occupation.
He said that his ideas can be summed up in Trump’s “America FIrst” philosophy of putting American interests at the forefront.
He said Gottheimer “has a lot of money and he’s going to outspend us,” but that he is one candidate who can “make Gottheimer squirm.”
He said Gottheimer failed us when he voted for impeachment, on terrorism, and support for Nancy Pelosi and the impeachment hearings.
He called Pelosi and Gottheimer “serial liars” and noted Gottheimer lies when he notes people are leaving New Jersey due to the $10,000 deduction cap imposed on state and local taxes under Trump’s tax reform act. He said he holds regular “Pizza & Politics” sessions with business owners and citizens to connect on issues.
He said Democrats “have been lied to” and noted the problem is Democratic leaders that “have been lying since Day One” and said Republicans must hold the Democrats to account for lies.