More questions than answers in coming NJ gubernatorial election

By Orhan Akkurt | Zaman Amerika

MONTCLAIR, NJ — Ahmet Idil buys and sells rare books. An immigrant from Turkey, the Montclair resident says his small business provides the sole means of support for his wife and their three children.

Like any self-employed businessperson, he knows his earnings depend on the stability of the economy. “In simple terms, a good economy means a good living for my family,” he says.

But as the gubernatorial election in New Jersey nears, Idil remains uncertain about which candidate can deliver on either of those two things.

Republican Kim Guadagno is running against Democrat Philip Murphy to replace outgoing Republican Governor Chris Christie, who remains deeply unpopular among voters.

Idil said the race is important for the immigrant community.

AH0A4808.JPG

“Unlike the presidential election, the gubernatorial race … impacts us directly, at the local level,” he said.

But among his concerns is the fact that to date neither candidate has addressed the issues that affect small immigrant-owned businesses in the state.

Immigrants account for one fifth of all residents in New Jersey, according to Census figures. Immigrant-owned businesses generate over $40 billion annually.

He also pointed out that despite being a registered Democrat he is open to both candidates, though he admits he knows little of their policy platforms.

“I know [Murphy] is an economist, but I am not fully aware of his policies,” he added, noting he is equally unfamiliar with Guadagno, the state’s current lieutenant governor.

“I don’t think I could vote for a candidate — whether a Democrat or Republican — who I am not familiar with.”

Nonetheless, he says the Republican Party’s anti-immigrant rhetoric is a cause for concern and a red flag against Guadagno.

“I am not biased [against] Republicans, but I don’t want someone who would be anti-immigrant,” he explained. “I didn't see a problem like that with Gov. Chris Christie.”

Idil lives with his family in Montclair, where he said the cost of things like housing, food and water are on the rise. He wants to know what the candidates will do to reduce the rising costs.

Education is another priority. He and his wife, Elif, have three young children, ages 15, 13 and 7.

“I have noticed the candidates have not talked much about education,” says Elif, who works as a principal at a nearby kindergarten. “What are they going to do next?”

After Elif moved to the United States, she went to school to develop her English skills. Then, she earned her master’s degree in education.

As someone who has been working in education for 15 years, she has seen the changes to education policy that come with each successive governor.

“During the presidential debate … Gov. Christie promised to get rid of the controversial Common Core standards in New Jersey,” Elif added. “But, of course, promises are always meant to be forgotten.”

Following Christie’s footsteps, Elif thinks that Guadagno may still keep Common Core in place, “Even though the state has not seen the real value of it for children.”

She adds, “As an educator and a parent, I want to see an improvement in our education system in the coming years.”

•    •    •

This story is part of the Voting Block series and was produced in collaboration with The Record, NJ Spotlight, WHYY, WNYC, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, the Center for Cooperative Media and New America Media. To read all the stories in this series, visit VotingBlockNJ.com.