By LINDA MOSS
Braving the brisk and rainy weather, Montclair residents came to the polls Tuesday to cast their ballots for governor, with New Jersey being only one of two states in the nation with gubernatorial races this year.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy entered Election Day with all the polls giving him the lead over his Republican opponent, Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno. The other state holding a gubernatorial election today is Virginia, and both elections are considered bellwethers of the strength, or weakness, of the GOP and President Donald Trump and his agenda.
At Hillside Elementary School, a Second Ward polling place, workers told Ken Browne that voter turnout was pretty heavy. Browne said he was surprised to hear that, since he expected the turnout would be light during a non-presidential election year.
“I’m very skeptical but it does seem like people are energized to cast a vote and certainly the results of the last election galvanized people around the right, responsibility and privilege we have to vote in a democratic election,” Browne said after voting and exiting the school. “And I think people are hungry to be reassured that voting matters, that your vote counts and that elections are fair.”
Browne cast his ballot in the tradition of his family, voting the Democratic line headed by Murphy and also including incumbent Democratic State Sen. Nia Gill, 34th District, and incumbent Democratic Freeholder Brendan Gill, both Montclair residents.
“It was Murphy, Gill, Gill, Gill, Gill, Gill,” Browne said. “I voted for all the Gills.”
“I’m pretty much a lifelong Democrat,” he said. “That’s what my parents were: working-class Bronx, blue-collar Democrats. Nothing has really altered that tradition that I grew up with. I’m not thrilled about some things that have gone on in the Democratic Party, But hey, what party is perfect?”
Mark Green, who moved to Montclair from New York City just over a year ago, also voted for the Murphy ticket at Hillside.
He said that he voted for the ex-Goldman Sachs executive “mostly because the current governorship has been a catastrophe and we have to fix that.”
Robin Alvarado also cast her ballot for the Murphy ticket at Hillside, saying it was crucial to vote even though it’s an “off” year, not a presidential election.
‘It’s not ‘off,’” she said. “It’s how you can change Congress or anyplace if you want to change it or keep it the same. You’ve got to get out and vote or it’s not going to happen. That’s why I came out to vote.”
Alvarado said she could not vote for any Republican candidate.
“Basically I feel so much from the top down is wrong and nothing is being done about it, and I feel that with gerrymandering and other things that have gone on that they’ve done my opinion is there is almost this feeling that you don’t have to listen to the voters at this point,” she said.
“And that’s not who I want in office. I want someone who hears my voice. How well Murphy will hear it, that’s questionable. But at this point I have to go along a party line for this particular vote.”
Emily Fink came out of Hillside after voting for Murphy and said may of his positions on issues aligned with hers.
“Everybody has the right to vote, so it’s important to come out there and vote even if you’re not a fan of the candidate,” Fink said. “I mean I happen to be, so it’s OK. Especially in New Jersey, it’s very important. There’s a lot of things that are important to me that I’ve been pretty unhappy about. There’s the national election and then there’s also things that have been going on in our state that I care about and that I would like a lot of change and I believe that that can happen at the grassroots end and [at] the level of the legislature.”
Fink said she is concerned about funding for education, women’s rights and access to health care, as well as transportation and the state’s ailing infrastructure.
“I think that transportation and public transportation and beefing that up is really important as a commuter into New York City, issues with NJ Transit,” Fink said.
“Electing a governor who believes in making lasting change, even if it’s at the state level, regardless of what kind of federal support they have, is really important to me,” she said.
At Trinity United Presbyterian Church, a Fourth Ward polling place, Derrick Singletary said he voted for Murphy in large part out of his concern for the cost of college education and hopes for job growth in the state. On the campaign stump Murphy proposed offering free community college for New Jersey residents.
Singletary said he has two children who are reaching college age and he doesn’t want to see them take on a lot of debt for their education.
“As long as they’re working on education, that’s my main focus,” he said. “It’s a lot. And even these kids, they go to school and they end up in debt. I know a lot of kids that are in debt now and they still don’t have a job. [They] finish college and they still don’t have the job that they want.”
And if Murphy can bring jobs back to New Jersey, “it’s a blessing,” Singletary said.