RIO GRANDE — Members of the Herald staff met with Republican and Democrat candidates for the First Legislative District seats in the state Senate and Assembly on Oct. 16. They were asked the same set of 10 questions.
Answers they gave will provide voters with insight on where candidates stand on issues that have not been asked in the campaign. Among those questions were their stance on completion of Route 55, how they view the lessening impact of religion on society and why they should receive a vote.
Not all answers are direct quotes, but summations of answers.
Question 1: Do you believe it is the state’s job to build drug treatment centers in each county?
Jeff Van Drew: We should have adequate drug treatment in each county. There are three areas of drug treatment: Education: inform young folks how awful it is. Treatment: it doesn’t make sense to put them in prison. Punishment: for those who distribute or who have committed violent crimes.
Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt: It is absolutely not the state’s responsibility to build drug treatment centers. There is no doubt we have an epidemic in Cape May and Cumberland counties. It is a problem we need to address, and need to be advocates for them. Substance abuse is a disease; it is treatable in some cases. Here in CMC we do have several types of services available. We need to allocate many more dollars toward rehab as opposed to incarcerating them. As a legislator, I would look to advocate in the same way to get treatment for these folks.
Nelson Albano: It is the state’s responsibility that there are treatment centers in every county. There are not enough facilities in counties. They are overwhelmed and overbooked. We need to educate them before they get to this point. We need these facilities and parents need to take a bigger role in raising children and recognizing the signs of (drug) use. If we get individuals help in the beginning it will save the state a lot more money and a lot more lives.
Robert Andrzejczak: Crack down on distributors. Make sure penalties are harsher for distributors. It would cost less in treatment facilities than continuously keeping them in prison. Financially makes more sense. Educate. Users are getting younger and younger. Get into schools; educate younger youth, make sure they don’t get hooked at an early age.
Kristine Gabor: The cost for imprisonment is far more than treatment and recovery centers. If we are paying for prisons, we can divert that funding to long-term recovery and would overall be better as a society than if we just send them to jail or make them fend for themselves. Not to say that private industry can’t have a part in it, but to say an absolute no to the state providing funding would be wrong.
Drug abuse is a huge problem usually related to poverty and low income and it goes hand in hand. Another part of drug abuse stems from mental illness. Talking bricks and mortar, I don’t think it’s up to the state to provide those treatment centers, but to provide some type of assistance to municipalities.
Question 2: Why should voters elect you?
Jeff Van Drew: Because of my bipartisanship, my relentless advocacy standing up for South Jersey, and because of my work ethic. That’s all I know how to do -- work hard.
Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt: I am compelled to run for Senate because I love this area, and I want to create jobs and spur economic development. I come from the private sector. My perspective is fresh, it’s vibrant, and I want to bring a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and passion to the job. We need change at the top. We need new leadership. That’s why I’m involved in the race.
Nelson Albano: I got into politics for all the right reasons and I have served eight years with integrity. I work hard. I will work hard for people of this district and people of New Jersey in my fifth term.
Robert Andrzejczak: I fought hard for my country, given the opportunity I will fight hard for South Jersey.
Kristine Gabor: I believe we don’t need politicians we need great public servants. I have a passion and am committed to do that. I know I represent those who elect me to office; it’s all about the voters’ agenda and needs.
Samuel Fiocchi: I am a job creator. I love New Jersey; I have the time and the energy and enthusiasm to do the job. Frankly I am not satisfied with the leadership we have.
Question 3: Do you favor, and will you pursue completing Route 55?
Jeff Van Drew: Best way to move forward is go to the design phase. Really push. We have studied and talked so many times, the thing is to design it. Second, it takes advocacy, hard work, bipartisanship. Many folks said we would never get lights off the parkway or never build a new bridge over Great Egg Harbor or never get a county college. You can accomplish these goals but it takes a lot of hard work.
Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt: Absolutely, I am an advocate for the project. It’s long overdue we need to get some good minds around the table and determine how to get the job done. We know what this will bring to Cumberland and Cape May counties in terms of connectivity, and also just alleviate that tremendous bottleneck that happens in Dennis Township and Goshen. All of those folks would be alleviated from that tremendous congestion that goes along all summer long. It would create an invitation to visit Cape May and Cumberland County. It gives us something new to discuss from a tourism perspective.
Nelson Albano: Yes, I believe there is a way to complete Route 55; we are all in agreement. There is a bill drafted to start the design phase. We have to get the economists, DOT and DEP to design a plan which keeps our ecology the way it is yet finish Route 55. It would make it a lot easier and quicker to get down here. I have spent as long as two hours getting down here (to Rio Grande) on a weekend. A lot of people are deterred Friday, Saturday and Sunday. It is going to be a very difficult thing to do.
Robert Andrzejczak: I would love to see completion of Route 55. A lot of locals would enjoy getting to and from work quicker. For guys that work farther up north, it would be a great asset. Tourism would benefit if they had a faster route, and realized it did not take as long to get down here. With completion, I would look into tying into Cape May, Vineland and Millville area along with Atlantic City to make it one big loop. It would build up the economy of the (Millville) arts district if it was completed.
Kristine Gabor: Absolutely yes. We need to extend it. It will enhance tourism and economic development. We need to work together to make sure the environment is not compromised. Bring everybody together for the betterment of the community. I am convinced we can make it happen if we all work together.
Samuel Fiocchi: It would be extremely important for both counties to have connectivity with Route 55. Cumberland with its bayshore could turn into a vibrant tourism economy. I would certainly advocate for it. It can only help the whole district.
Question 4: Do you favor, and will you pursue consolidation of municipal and county services via state inducements, to reduce taxes?
Jeff Van Drew: I have always been supportive of that. The governor said change is here. We also need to do more. It’s very difficult in N.J. because we have home rule; but there are ways, such as in tax assessing. Those things make sense. We don’t want to hurt the identity of any town. There are functions they can combine, like tax assessment. We hope to do more.
Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt: Yes. Whatever we can consolidate and cut spending costs, I’m all for that. We have to keep looking for ways to save money. When I took over my business in 2007, at the height of the recession, I was given a real mess. I streamlined operations, got by on bare bones, but because I made those cuts we are successful. I will take that same mentality and mindset in how I approach being a legislator, without cutting services. Shared services are great. I would be an advocate wherever possible.
Nelson Albano: Incentive, I believe a lot of municipalities need an incentive. There are cost issues when people try to consolidate. We need to give towns an incentive to try to save tax dollars. We could sit down and see if we could merge tax assessors. I don’t believe we should force towns to do it but we could put incentive there.
Robert Andrzejczak: I think it should not be forced. Consolidation is a great tool, if towns go along with it and are on board for it, a lot of towns should consolidate their assets. It would be really good.
Kristine Gabor: Yes. Being in municipal government in Upper Township we had shared services with other communities. The more we can do that, the more efficient and better off we are. There is a lot of redundancy in government and we need to work together (to eliminate it). Part of the problem with consolidating services is Civil Service. If we had the ability to reform that.
Samuel Fiocchi: (Assembly Speaker) Sheila Oliver said: Where it (consolidation) makes sense. Everybody uses it as a broad brush. It makes sense, but you have to be judicious with it. A municipality has to have the discipline to spend (saved money) somewhere else. I think it’s a great idea; all governing bodies have to be in line. The purpose with this is to be more efficient and save money.
Question 5: Do you favor, and will you pursue equalizing flow of tourism tax dollars to and from Trenton in order to strengthen tourism promotion?
Jeff Van Drew: I remember when we increased the room tax radically. We did it in a bipartisan way. In Cape May County we had demonstrations that this was wrong. Very little good came out of that. It puts us at an economic disadvantage. Money was used for budgetary shortfalls; at least it kept us to statutory requirement. Of money we send up there, not nearly enough comes back along the coastal areas; the tax is still too high. Many (legislators) up north and central Jersey’s areas get the money and they are not all that concerned about it (tourism).
Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt: Absolutely I want to be an advocate for equalizing the number of dollars we get here in Cape May County and the district. I have 60 years of heritage in the tourist industry. My grandparents built a motel in Wildwood. I grew up around that motel. My parents own a motel in Wildwood Crest. I could not be a bigger cheerleader for tourism. It is the lifeblood for Cape May County I would like to see it expanded into Cumberland County.
Nelson Albano: I fight to increase the tourism budget. Some states spend double what New Jersey does on tourism. Chambers of commerce are getting new officers; we all have to work as a state, we need to make an all year round tourism district. Towns are adding different venues, just because beaches are closed does not mean we are closed for the season. We can make it almost year round tourism business in New Jersey and increase revenue tenfold. Key is being able to have more money in Cape May County and state.
Robert Andrzejczak: Definitely in our district tourism is one of the largest parts of our economy. We need to draw people down here and expand the tourism season. Now it is a few months. We are not providing yearlong jobs. I want to work on tourism. This past session I was not able get on the Tourism Committee. I will fight more for South Jersey, it gives us a better fighting chance.
Kristine Gabor: Yes, no question about it; we only get back 10 percent of what we send to the state in tourism dollars. We are the best tourism area in the state. We give the most money (to Trenton) and get the least back. We do not get back as much as we give in. I would definitely want to see us get more of our fair share.
Samuel Fiocchi: We don’t get a lot of that back in Cape May County. I will be a loud voice for that.
Question 6: Many government workers receive higher compensation, benefits and retirement pay than the private economy. Would you work to bring these costs into parity?
Jeff Van Drew: We have gotten on better path with health care and we need to do more with sick leave buyouts. (There is a Senate colleague who has constituents who, because of government jobs receive) hundreds of thousands of dollars in sick leave buyouts. There has to be some equalizing force. People deserve fair compensation, we need to do it in a fair and equitable way, particularly the sick leave.
Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt: Absolutely we need to have reform. People now are paying into their pension retirement and insurance benefits. It’s a bitter pill to swallow. I have empathy for folks who were given those promises have to pay in. Talking to teachers, I hear this issue come up time and time again they are not taking home as big a paycheck. I am sensitive to it. We have to make these changes. They have to be phased in, they have to be fair. So we are not pulling the rug out from under people.
Nelson Albano: Yes. A lot of that has been done when they did Health Care and Pension reform; we need to continue to work with the pension part. Pension is on the right path. It will still take a lot more funding. Health care should be done through negotiation between state and union officials; it should be left that way. We must continue to make health care on an even basis. Let’s do it at the bargaining table. We have to make it on a level playing field. Health care can be done through bargaining and pension through legislation.
Robert Andrzejczak: It definitely needs to be a lot fairer. I feel it is in the process of being properly funded. We definitely need to work on that and we will continue to work on that in the future.
Kristine Gabor: Yes I would, in a sensible way, do it over the course of time. The governor started with pension and benefit reform. Government employees weren’t paying anything; now they are paying a portion. People were robbing from the till and not making the contributions they were supposed to, we were put in a very dire situation where reforms were necessary for the survival of that system. We have to equalize that. The taxpayers could not afford to have expanded benefits.
Samuel Fiocchi: Yes, something needed to be done to be sure there were pensions and benefits. We needed to phase it in; compare it to an ocean liner heading in the wrong direction, the current administration is turning that around and it takes time to do so to get back to a streamlined government, to be more efficient.
Question 7: What understanding (education, including knowledge of history, and experience) have you gained in life which qualifies you to hold the high office you seek?
Jeff Van Drew: In my heart I believe I have understanding; I did not grow up a wealthy person. I have worked hard since I was 14 years old, and worked my way through college and dental school. I know nothing but work. I believe in the American system. I believe we have the most unique, extraordinary system in USA on the face of the earth. It granted me so much opportunity. I am successful as a dentist, just from working harder and giving it my best. I can relate to working folks. I loved and studied history. America’s foundation of working hard, giving people an opportunity to succeed is wonderful. I have run a business three decades, paid salary and health care to employees. I know about business. I have a whole lot of life experience on many levels.
Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt: I lived in the district over 30 years, my family has had businesses here for over 60 years. I have a long lineage and deep love for the area. I graduated from Wildwood High School and Arcadia University. I worked at an area radio station with my first job at WCMC Wildwood. I got insight into local issues. I went to Channel 40 as a reporter and anchor. I went into public relations for Showboat Casino and Hotel. I went into the Great American Trolley Company, a family-owned business. I never had an ownership stake and was always an employee. I have always taken a regional approach to my job. I joined Smith O’Keefe, and went to school eight years, and night school. I bought the business and renamed the firm in June 2007.
Nelson Albano: My family values, hard work, passion, compassion, integrity. I have a whole lot of years working and relating to lower and middle-class workers. I was a shop steward for 20 years, and the first vice president of a union with 16,000 members. I believe a lot involves the morals I was taught by my father. I started working when I was 12-years-old cutting flowers on a gladiolus farm. I went to night school. Since age 19, until today I have worked two jobs, and provided for my family. I worked on Michael’s Law for two years. (Sen. VanDrew) made me believe I can make a difference.
Robert Andrzejczak: I started work at a young age and worked hard up until I joined the military. Military was my second hardest job. The first hardest was working on a farm; that will teach you a lot about yourself and how strong you really are. I went through so much in the military. I went in at 19 and did five years. The life experience that I went through normal people don’t have at my age. I’ve experienced death, brotherhood and camaraderie. I’ve been put in situations nobody has to live through. I feel I can find common ground with almost everybody.
Kristine Gabor: It’s my life experience of working full-time right out of high school; learning how to budget and raise a family and figure how to pay our taxes and mortgage. My elderly mother lives on Social Security, and having a family member who was developmentally disabled when I was growing up. I’m a normal everyday person. There is nothing special about me. I have experiences in municipal and county budgets and know what a headache government can be. It also gave me an opportunity to learn about the lives of others who are different, and how government affects what we should be doing to serve them. It’s about everything I learned from the time I was a kid until now, in my late 40s. If we don’t fight for what is right and doing what is right we only have ourselves to blame. I want to continue to do that on another level.
Samuel Fiocchi: I had a family business and had to stand on my own two feet at a very young age. I stayed with the business which grew from three employees into an international concern with 50 employees, and we decided to stay in New Jersey. I wanted to be part of the governor’s vision. I was part of Christie’s transition team in 2009, and became a freeholder in 2010. I am proud of my record as freeholder. I voted against two tax increase budgets. Last year, when I was in the majority, we closed the budget gap of over $10 million with no tax increase, no reduction in service, and used less surplus. I want to bring that to Trenton.
Question 8: Do you use social media or any other technology to reach out to the public? What kind of systems do you have in place to tap into the public’s main concerns?
Jeff Van Drew: I have a Facebook page and team has one; I pay attention to that. I also agree with them; it is really good going out there and speaking to people person-to-person. We have worked hard on that. I spend about 60 hours a week on this job. This is a passion, an advocacy that you have to have.
Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt: We have our own Facebook pages, three websites, also shared JobsforSouthJersey.com. We have engaged with the public. We have been transparent and accessible as we can. Social media connects you, as a senator. I see myself being just as accessible with social media. One component of our plan is to create a communications portal, not only on a legislative level, and lay out the welcome mat for local businesses which want to locate here. I want to have a conversation with them however they want to have the conversation. Everybody communicates in a different way. We need to listen and ask the question, ‘What is the best way to communicate with you?’
Nelson Albano: What makes us unique? We still do it the old-fashioned way. There is not a legislative team that attends more functions than the three of us. There is nothing better than being out in the public talking with them first-hand. We have websites, personal emails, and legislative website. We text and are on Facebook checking messages from people putting out there what we are doing and what goes on in the statehouse. We try to keep people informed on a daily basis. We probably spend more time out with the public more than any other legislative team. We do it the old-fashioned way and the new technology way.
Robert Andrzejczak: I use social media. We have a team Facebook page and also have a Twitter account. Being the new guy, I have slowly been getting lot of messages. I also have legislative email and access to the NJ Legislature’s website.
Kristine Gabor: Social media is important but there is nothing better than face-to-face interaction with people. We are losing that to some extent in society because everybody is always on the go. I’m the biggest violator with my cell phone. I always make sure, as a freeholder, I am accessible, that they can reach me by phone. Serving the public is not about running out for photo ops, when they are really upset, being there for them at those times is important. Human interactions are the best way and make yourself as accessible as possible.
Samuel Fiocchi: I don’t Tweet, but use Facebook. I have a website; we have a Facebook page. We also have an eight-point plan and get contact on our website. We give cell phone numbers out. It is all part of being an elected official: being accessible.
Question 9: Do you believe that forcing religion out of the public sector contributes to our society’s decline?
Jeff Van Drew: We’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to deny our heritage. No question the U.S. is based on faith and belief in God, Jefferson, Washington, Adams, all had a slightly different vision but there is not one document you can find, that this nation is based upon, that does not mention God. I sponsored a bill that in N.J. any public or private building you can place the motto “In God We Trust.” It’s the basis of this nation. If you don’t have a mother or father who wants to know, where is my child, that’s what it is based on: family structure. You must believe in something greater than yourself. There is nothing wrong (with a moment of silence) every day in school, bowing their heads, praying to whomever in some way, recognizing there is something more. If there is not we are in trouble.
Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt: We have a fundamental right to express ourselves in the way we choose. As a society we don’t place as much emphasis on religion. I grew up Catholic, as I remember taking a moment of silence having more time for religious activities you could say that’s been done away with, it’s not as good as it used to be. Religion did play a factor in molding us more so in past decades than now.
Nelson Albano: I agree with that. I went to Catholic school and always had a religion class in all 12 years of my education. I believe it did make me a better person. That’s where, beside father and mother, my morals came from: having access to religion. I believe it should be a school’s choice. We can’t stop schools from a moment of silence in the morning. If you want to thank your God whether you are Jewish, Catholic, or Muslim you should be allowed to do that. Take a moment of silence you are able to thank your creator or your God. I believe more and more it’s a struggle to teach our kids morals. It (religion) should not be forced out of schools.
Robert Andrzejczak: I think what government is doing is going above and beyond to kick faith and religion out. It’s absurd. It should not be forced on anybody. Bowing your head in the morning in school is not making one religion for everybody. It should not be an offense to anyone. The core values of any religion can be used in everyday life. Why would we not want people to be better people? It needs to be in government and in the schools.
Kristine Gabor: Yes, I think we should have the freedom to do that, if people want to join together and pray they should be allowed to do that. Forcing that issue is a bad decision. If people opt not to pray that is okay too; that is what our country’s supposed to be about, freedom to express your religious views and not be forced not to be allowed to do that. I prayed in town halls before we had meetings, I have attended Christmas tree lightings. I would not force religion on anyone but I would not keep anyone from praying if that made them feel good. Otherwise it would be detrimental.
Samuel Fiocchi: We were founded on freedom of religion. It is important that we respect those that wish to worship and need not force it on anyone. I think it was always an integral part. I think we need to keep religion in there. We were found on religious freedom, it is part of what our founding fathers intended.
Question 10: How should the state address the infrastructure problems with our roads, bridges and dams?
Jeff Van Drew: We should not put forward a tax increase on gas. All three of us do not support that. We in South Jersey travel but there is less public transportation. It’s going to hurt the economy. I subscribe to the governor’s philosophy: as this economy grows, rather than start myriad new programs to segregate that money for infrastructure needs. We have to make sure dollars go to the right place, and take care of the responsibility we have now: take care of your roads and bridges. Pay as you go, as economy expands put more money into Transportation Trust Fund.
Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt: I don’t think they should do it by an increase in the gas tax. We need to find a way to address these in the budget. Aging infrastructure needs funding, we need to find resources that make sure that South Jersey gets its fair share. North and central Jersey get roads and rail lines. We are not getting that same love and attention. These are infrastructure issues that plague our area and they absolutely need attention.
Nelson Albano: I was intrigued by the necessity to address the bridge issue. N.J. this year is spending $744 million on bridge repair and building one fifth of the transportation budget. There are 184 bridges in N.J. that are either structurally insufficient or fracture critical, which means one main component of that bridge could go and the whole bridge would collapse. We are talking huge public safety issue. As revenues increase we need to put additional money into the Transportation Trust Fund, not by raising gas taxes, but money increased on from more gas being used, that additional money needs to go into funding the bridges. We need to be at $1 billion in next couple years.
Robert Andrzejczak: We do not need to increase taxes; we definitely do not need more tolls or fees. I agree: pay as you go. Be able to do more when that money comes in and don’t stretch ourselves too thin. In South Jersey bridges need to be replaced. When economy comes back need to work on that.
Kristine Gabor: Gas tax or borrow money, nobody wants to do that. What is the third option? Cut unnecessary spending. How do we do that? I haven’t gotten into how we do that. I don’t want to borrow money if we don’t have to. But if we don’t improve infrastructure, all the other things we want will never come to fruition. We don’t want the taxpayers to bear the burden; once we get there we’ll figure it out.
Samuel Fiocchi: Raising taxes, additional bonding is not the way. (We must seek) alternative sources of funding. Part of it too, is a simple business model. Governor is trying to cut costs and streamline government. The other half is increasing revenues. Democratic administrations made this one of worst states to do business. The lieutenant governor is trying to increase business friendliness in the state, and she is doing a good job. We must reduce taxes and increase revenue and hopefully there is more discretionary spending.