The ferocity of the Democratic primary battle in the 9th
Congressional District hit a new level Wednesday when a shouting
match broke out on the steps of Passaic City Hall between supporters
of Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. and Rep. Steve Rothman.
The incident happened near the close of a Rothman rally during which a series of speakers from the Latino community voiced support for the Englewood congressman in a town that Pascrell has represented in Congress for 16 years.
Rothman did not attend the rally and instead was campaigning in Englewood, said his senior campaign adviser, Paul Swibinski. Swibinski said the plan all along was for elected officials and members of the Latino community to hold the rally on their own.
Toward the end of that rally, about 60 people carrying Rothman signs began shouting "Rothman! Rothman!"
At that point about a dozen Pascrell supporters who had been holding signs for their candidate starting shouting "Bill Pascrell! Bill Pascrell!" The rally then drew to a close, and both factions dissipated without further incident.
Swibinski later said he had never seen anything like it in a local campaign.
"Sending people to hoot and holler and disrupt a news conference - - it's a very disappointing tactic on Bill Pascrell's part," he said.
Pascrell's campaign spokesman, Sean Darcy, defended the move, adding that the Pascrell supporters were disappointed not to see Rothman there.
"Our supporters feel very strongly about the merits of Congressman Pascrell," Darcy said.
Pascrell, a Paterson Democrat, took his campaign to Bergen County, where he appeared earlier in the day outside the Garfield Veterans of Foreign Wars Lodge 2867. The only competing noise was traffic whizzing past on Outwater Lane.
Pascrell accepted the endorsements of several veterans from Bergen and Passaic counties as well as Essex County, parts of which he represented in the old 8th District. Under redistricting, the new 9th District includes parts of Bergen, Passaic and Hudson counties.
He spoke about his support for veterans returning from war with traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Without diagnosis and care of certain ailments like these two -- traumatic brain injury and PTSD -- it could be very hard for veterans to return to the workplace," said Pascrell, who in 2001 founded the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force.
Later, at the Passaic rally, several speakers, without mentioning Pascrell by name, criticized his vote in 2006 for a $6 billion, 700- mile-long security fence along part of the U.S.-Mexican border. Rothman, they noted, voted against it.
Passaic City Council President Gary Schaer said Pascrell essentially had voted to spend "$6.1 billion for a fence that went nowhere."
That prompted one man in the crowd -- who was not standing with the Pascrell supporters -- to begin angrily shouting at Schaer until a Passaic police officer escorted him away.
Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, D-Secaucus, called the fence wasteful and said it vilified immigrants.
"That money could have been used for comprehensive immigration reform," Prieto said.
When questioned in Garfield earlier in the day, Pascrell defended his vote on the fence as a matter of homeland security. He said none of the Latino voters he's met in the district has raised the issue with him.
"The government has every right to know who is coming into the country and who is leaving," he said.
Later, he added: "I'm here to protect America. That is the first part of my pledge, when I pledge every time we get elected."
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