May 23, 2019 | 66° F

Rutgers alumnus talks experience serving as chairman for Bernie Sanders, progressive politics

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 John Wisniewski, a Rutgers alumni and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said the only county he was able to win was the one that did not have a party line in the primary election, which demonstrates the effect of party lines on primary elections. 

In an interview with The Daily Targum, John Wisniewski, a Rutgers alumni, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former New Jersey assemblyman, discussed progressive politics, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and advice for students interested in running for office.  

Wisniewski previously served as the New Jersey chairman for Sanders's campaign during the Democratic primaries. He is also known for pushing to hold former Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) accountable during the “Bridgegate” scandal when he worked as chairman of the Assembly’s Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee, according to NJ Advance Media.

He said in New Jersey, registered voters can either be affiliated with a party or unaffiliated. Traditionally, affiliated voters either align with the Democrat or Republican Party. Those who affiliate with a party can only vote in that party’s primary election. Those who do not affiliate with a party will be identified as affiliated if they vote in the primaries. 

Those who register as Independent, on the other hand, do not vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary. Though Sanders is an Independent himself, he is running as a Democrat to garner more media coverage.

“Bernie was successful in 2016 because he demonstrated that you don’t need to be part of the establishment to run a national political campaign, that you don’t need a rolodex of well-heeled donors to raise money and that traditional Democratic values have a receptive audience,” he said. 

He is familiar with “party lines” though, and their effect on primary elections. Wisniewski said the “line” is the intersection of political parties endorsing their preferred candidates in a primary election by bracketing or aligning them with other candidates so that they draw a favorable ballot position.

“The only county that I was able to win in (the 2017 gubernatorial Democratic primary) was the only county that does not have a party line in the primary election,” he said.

In the Assembly and gubernatorial race, Wisniewski identified himself as a progressive candidate. He said being progressive meant making sure everyone had the opportunities to have access to a living wage, access to healthcare, a good education and decent housing. 

He said he is concerned, though, with the trend among Democrats to focus on the cost of an idea, program or initiative. 

“But if we worry about the ledger balance, we may never start on that trip. Crossing the Atlantic 500 years ago didn’t make sense on a cost-benefit approach, shooting for the moon when early American rockets could barely make it off the pad was a costly and risky gamble – but those leaders changed the world,” he said.

For next year’s elections though, Wisniewski said he believes the Democratic Party will be strengthened because voters will be able to hear from a diverse set of ideas. 

“Bernie’s race in 2016 opened up many voters to progressive ideas that they had previously been convinced were not viable. The successful 2020 candidate will open our party up to more innovation,” he said.

For new candidates, Wisniewski gave four pieces of advice. First, candidates should define what they want to do if elected to office. Candidates should then take that definition and turn it into a 3-minute pitch of why someone should vote for them. Afterward, he recommends they make a list of everyone they have ever met or worked with and ask them for their help in contributing to the campaign. Fourth, he encourages candidates to go and meet voters whenever they can.

“If you work hard and don’t succeed, repeat steps A through D the next time,” he said. 

Yara Assadi

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