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Race #8212 and the race N.J.’s candidates for lieutenant governor are a Latino and an African-American. They talk about whether that matters

Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo is running with Republican gubernatorial nominee and current Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.-(AARON HOUSTON)

Both of New Jersey’s candidates for governor selected politicians from their party who also happen to be from minority communities for the lieutenant governor position.
Both of New Jersey’s candidates for governor selected politicians from their party who also happen to be from minority communities for the lieutenant governor position.

With former Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver, who is African-American, running with Democratic nominee Phil Murphy, and Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo running with Republican nominee and current Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, the candidates appear to be in a battle to court Latino and African-American votes this year.

Both lieutenant governor candidates spoke with NJBIZ about the media attention on their ethnicities and how they perceive the election from their vantage points.

NJBIZ: Is the media doing more to make this about race than it is?

Carlos Rendo: I think the minority thing is being overblown. It is a positive, but I don’t think it is the overall determining factor of why we are in this race. It’s a plus. We are minorities, and both parties take this as an opportunity to show we are a state of inclusion. But it’s not a determining factor.

Sheila Oliver: I think the fact that I am an African-American female further enhanced (the ticket), because I have a number of different experiences in government. I’ve worked in municipal (and) county government and I’m now in my 14th year in the state Legislature. But there is no negating the ambassador (Murphy) understands New Jersey is a very diverse place. He is running as a Democrat and there is no doubt African-Americans have traditionally voted Democrat.

NJBIZ:  Will this be a test of the voting power of the minority communities? Are there issues they specifically care about?

CR: A lot of Hispanic families are conservative and believe in the Republican message. They just haven’t had anyone to articulate that message. I’m hoping to do so and bring their message and politics of inclusion into the race. The Hispanic community I know and that I speak to are hardworking individuals. They are blue collar and have educated their children, and their children have become white collar. People (in Woodcliff Lake) elected me not just because I’m Latino, but because I speak about lower taxes and lower spending. In my city, Latinos are less than 1 percent. (Hispanics) are looking for the same thing other Americans are looking for, like quality education, jobs, affordability. If I could be their voice, I’ll be more than happy to represent them and speak about them statewide.

SO: I think the fact I’m female brings another dimension, the fact I’m African-American brings another dimension. But I’ve had a career that engages with other diverse populations and bring so much to the Murphy-Oliver ticket. I have forged relationships and work in collaboration with every kind of group you could imagine. Will that be leveraged and translate into votes for the Murphy-Oliver ticket? It absolutely is.

NJBIZ: Have you had a moment to think about the impact of your role — of being in a position of first to represent a minority group at the second-highest spot in the state?

CR: Well, to put it bluntly, I’ll be the first immigrant. I wasn’t even born in this country. That is a statement that an immigrant can come to this country with nothing but the clothes on their backs and reach great success. It’s a tribute to our system of government and our forefathers and the way they believed this country should be constituted. I am the first male running for lieutenant governor; I am the first Hispanic and I am the first immigrant running for lieutenant governor. I think that speaks volumes.

SO: That will happen in this campaign as well. I can’t say it forcefully enough — so many various demographic groups.

Many of my peers who are black, we chuckle and lament the fact that the political system has a stereotypical view of who the black community is and who the Latino community is. There are African-Americans at every ladder of the socioeconomic structure. We must work to debunk the myth that we can define ethnic communities by a perception or stereotype that we have. I believe that I bring a voice to those issues for that community. I think the myth has to be debunked that the only thing African-Americans in the state care about is urban issues.

My junior, senior year of college, Shirley Chisholm ran for state Senate in New York, and became the first African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Congress. I became enthralled. She said, after serving, ‘I don’t want to be remembered as the first black woman who went to Congress. And I don’t even want to be remembered as the first woman who happened to be black to make the bid for the presidency.’

 

Anjalee Khemlani