Written for The Argo by Emma Desiderio
Infrastructure, state pending, and COVID mandates were some of the topics debated Wednesday night at the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton. New Jersey Legislative District 2 State Senate Democratic candidate Vincent Mazzeo debated Vincent Polistina on these issues.
Mazzeo largely focused on how his constituents have benefited from his recent work in the state senate, while his opponent, Republican Vincent Polistina, emphasized the importance of affordability.
“This state has gotten so unaffordable for the middle class,” Polistina opened, a point which he reiterated throughout the debate.
Mazzeo and Polistina offered opposing responses to the question of whether masks and vaccines should be mandatory. “I think it’s important when talking about mandates to focus on the health of New Jersey,” said Mazzeo. “New Jersey is doing better than most states,” (in terms of combatting COVID-19).
Polistina, however, said that “mandates are not helpful,” referring to them as “divisive” among constituents. He said that it is “unnecessary” for children to wear masks in school.
Tensions grew following a question about property taxes. “We need to stop being so irresponsible with our budget,” Polistina said. “They want you to think it’s about taxing the rich, but it’s affecting you at the grocery store, at the gas station.”
Mazzeo countered by pointing out that it was Republicans who raised property taxes. The tiff continued when the candidates were asked about the Atlantic City casino payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT bill).
“That bill has been a savior for Atlantic City,” said Mazzeo, who was a sponsor of the original PILOT bill.
“There is no reason to give more money to the casino operators when Atlantic City has so many other needs,” countered Polistina.
A question about climate change was asked, which noted that readers were especially concerned about this issue. Both candidates acknowledged the severity of climate change and the potential effects on the area, but neither offered solid answers regarding climate legislation that would be implemented. Polistina emphasized the potentially high cost of diversifying our energy sources.
The candidates stayed true to their parties in regards to abortion rights but agreed on issues such as casino smoking bans and diversification of the economy.
When asked whether systemic racism exists in the criminal justice system and what can be done to address it, both candidates declared their support for local police departments but did not directly answer the question.
Mazzeo was asked why the process of legalizing marijuana is taking so long and responded by saying the commission took too long to form. Polistina said it was a failure of the state government to implement regulations, and argued that Mazzeo voted to eliminate parental notification when a minor is caught in possession of marijuana. Mazzeo countered that the bill was fixed, and Polistina said it was only fixed because people were outraged.
Polistina offered a closing statement, in which he announced, “I don’t need this [the election], I want to do it.”
“It’s not about Democrats or Republicans. It’s about helping people,” said Mazzeo in his closing remarks.