By Gianluca D’Elia
Sen. Raymond Lesniak is well-known for his legislation on environmental protection, clean air and marriage equality. He has also championed the abolition of the death penalty in New Jersey.
Lesniak, a state senator and potential 2017 gubernatorial candidate, spoke at an event sponsored by the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics about his vision for a better New Jersey on Oct. 20 in the Mercer Room.
“The next governor of New Jersey will be faced with many difficult challenges,” Lesniak said. “You won’t find anyone more determined or more able to fight for the environment or for social and economic justice or for jobs and economic growth.”
Dr. Benjamin Dworkin, the director of the Rebovich Institute, said that while no Democrat has formally opened a campaign to be governor of New Jersey, there are five candidates, including Senator Lesniak, who are currently seeking nomination by doing everything possible to curry favor with party leaders and “hardcore” primary voters.
“The primary isn’t until June 2017, so this is going to be a long and elaborate political dance,” Dworkin said. “For now, since voters hardly know who these potential candidates are, it is difficult to poll who is ahead.”
Lesniak, a Democrat, who has a reputation for sponsoring some of the most progressive laws in the nation, said he faced strong opposition in his efforts to pass laws that protect New Jersey citizens, but getting these laws passed make him a qualified candidate for governor.
One of the most notable laws Lesniak supported as a state senator was the Environmental Cleanup Responsibility Act (ECRA) in 1983.
“ECRA proved you can have environmental protection and economic development,” said Lesniak. “Realtors, developers and bankers fought hard against my efforts to pass ECRA. I overcame their opposition, and made New Jersey a safe and healthy place for businesses and their employees.”
Lesniak has also sponsored legislation for clean drinking water, establishing the Water Quality Institute to keep water companies up to date on regulations.
“In 1984, there were no federal or state testing requirements or standards for suspected cancer-causing hydrocarbons in our drinking water,” Lesniak said. “Everyone assumed when they turned on their faucet, the water was safe to drink, but it was not. So I sponsored the Safe Drinking Water Act, which established testing requirements and standards.”
This legislation was not an easy job. Lesniak said there was “fierce opposition” from water companies that did not want extra testing and treatment requirements.
“Just like the realtors, developers, bankers, petrochemical companies and the mob, they lost and the people won,” he said.
Lesniak also wants to continue his fight for civil rights. In 2009, he sponsored a bill for marriage equality, and faced major opposition from the Catholic Church, which he said was just as difficult as fighting developers and bankers. When same-sex marriage finally became the law of the land, Lesniak said he hosted the first same-sex wedding in New Jersey at his home in Elizabeth.
Lesniak also reached out to his audience of Rider students, encouraging millenials to vote in elections and promising to include improvements to higher education in his vision for New Jersey.
“[Lesniak] did a great job connecting with students,” said sophomore accounting and finance major Christian Lazo. “It’s easy to see how he can relate with the people of New Jersey.”
Lesniak’s plans include fiscal stability, a healthy environment, infrastructure improvements, affordable housing, improved education, and safer communities that will attract investment and create the jobs and economic development the state needs.
“That’s my vision for New Jersey,” Lesniak said. “And you won’t find anyone more able or more determined to get it done. I’ve proved I can take on challenges against all odds and prevailed.”