1. What about your background would make you a good state senator?
While passionate about my beliefs, I am a consensus builder who has amassed a record of effectiveness and getting my bills passed over nine years as a state legislator, dating back to my very first term in the Assembly. I am a detail-oriented, zealous advocate for my constituents. I also accumulated significant experience while serving on the Budget and Appropriations Committees that have enabled me to bring home “pork” to my district and mitigate the severity of harsh cuts over the years.
My family struggled growing up. I supported myself through high school, college, and graduate school as an emancipated minor, living independently since the age of 15 after my parents were forced to return to their native India. My late father couldn’t work as a result of debilitating medical conditions but could no longer afford health coverage without a job. But he and my mother instilled in us the value of unrelenting perseverance, a good education, and a spirit of service to community and boundless generosity even when you might not feel like you have much to offer. The challenges they faced inspired my passion and advocacy for accessible, quality healthcare. It also forced me to think creatively and led to my realization of my own American dream. The first of my numerous businesses was a technology company I founded in middle school and sold to enlist in the Marines at age 17 – two weeks after the September 11th attacks – serving as a reservist in military intelligence and rising to the rank of Sergeant. Since then, I have worked as an attorney and municipal prosecutor, an entrepreneur and CEO who created hundreds of jobs, a law professor, and Deputy Mayor of Jersey City. I have also volunteered for nearly 15 years as Chairman of the Jersey City Housing Authority, working to revitalize Jersey City’s public housing sites and expand affordable housing options in our city.
The goal of securing a brighter tomorrow for my 4-year-old son, Leo, and 18-month-old daughter, Liana, has strengthened my resolve to keep fighting for our state.
2. What do you hope becoming a Senator will enable you to accomplish that you couldn’t as an Assemblyperson?
Each individual vote is worth considerably more in the (24-member majority) Senate than in the General Assembly, which would improve my chances of advancing certain of my priorities on behalf of the 32nd Legislative District. Those priorities include, among other things:
- Improving public transit and making necessary capital investments in infrastructure, and finally allocate statutorily dedicated, recurring revenue sources for NJ TRANSIT funding and end capital fund to operating fund transfers to fill transit budget holes;
- Ensuring housing affordability and alleviating our highest-in-the-nation property tax burden by advancing initiatives to achieve savings through municipal consolidations (which has long been a third rail in New Jersey politics) and shared services;
- Improving our schools and ensuring equitable state funding for urban public schools when the school funding formula is renewed; and
- Expanding every New Jerseyan’s fundamental right to access quality and affordable healthcare and medicine by creating a public option health plan, with an eye toward eventually achieving healthcare for all.
3. Some people believe that “the line” is unfair and illegal. What is your position on it?
Although I am proud of my Hudson County Democratic Organization endorsement and privileged to share a ballot with other extraordinarily dedicated, talented, and qualified candidates backed by our Democratic Party organization – and I am proud of the Democratic Party’s efforts nationally to save our democracy – there are legitimate concerns about the manner in which the “line” is awarded in New Jersey and the potential erosion of true voter choice by ensuring such a lopsided advantage for party-endorsed candidates. Candidates should be able to bracket with running mates of their own choosing, but it may be time for the “line” – as described in the litigation pending in the District Court – to be modernized (read: abolished) in keeping with the Democratic Party’s values and goal of maximizing (rather than suppressing) informed participation in our free and fair elections.
4. Can you tell us about specific things you’ve accomplished for Jersey City?
Hundreds of millions in infrastructure funding and direct appropriations support for earmarked projects; improvements to mass transit and increases in NJ TRANSIT funding as well as route changes and advocacy to de-privatize busy certain routes (such as the 119) and reduce overcrowding and missed stops; pandemic support for renters, families, and small businesses; various enacted measures to mitigate potential property tax hikes (see #7). More broadly, I’ve also authored and secured passage of a wide range of laws on healthcare access, including mental health and addiction; safeguarding tenant rights; social justice; improving the welfare of my fellow veterans and combating veteran homelessness; public safety; helping small businesses thrive; and myriad other issues. I was a primary sponsor of the NJ law protecting the rights of women and birthing people to reproductive autonomy and authored several major climate change-combating bills.
As an effective and zealous advocate, I have also secured successful outcomes for thousands of constituents over the years in their dealings with state agencies.
5. What do you feel are the most important issues to Jersey City residents and what would you do to address them?
See #2 above.
6. Do you support the plan proposed for Liberty State Park by the Paul Fireman backed groups “Liberty State Park for All” and “The People’s Park?’
No. From the time I served as Deputy Mayor of Jersey City through my nine years in the Legislature, I have consistently opposed plans for privatization or large-scale commercialization of Liberty State Park as well as plans for the park that do not enjoy the support of the Friends of Liberty State Park and other environmental, conservation, and neighborhood associations representing the preferences of the vast majority of Jersey City residents as to the future of this national treasure and crown jewel of our state park system. I am the primary sponsor of the Caven Point Protection Act in the Assembly, which Senator Stack has sponsored in the Senate, and I am the primary sponsor of the broader Liberty State Park Protection Act. For my stance on Liberty State Park and overall stewardship on natural resource protection and climate change, I was a 2021 Sierra Club Award recipient and received the annual Legislative Leadership Award from NY/NJ Baykeeper in 2018 and 2022 (which the organization stated made me the only two-time awardee in the organization’s history).
7. Are Jersey City property taxes too low, about right or too high?
Too. Damn. High. (Much like the rent.) Nevertheless, I have fought successfully during my tenure on the Budget Committee, and as Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee, to bolster funding for the Senior Freeze; fund the largest property tax rebate in state history through the ANCHOR program in the most recent fiscal act; prime-sponsor legislation to enact an employer payroll tax dedicated to Jersey City public schools to offset property tax hikes; and restore 2/3 of the school funding previously proposed to be slashed in the upcoming fiscal year as a primary sponsor of A5328 (a $103 million restoration, one-third of which goes straight to Jersey City). Coupled with the hundreds of millions in infrastructure funding and direct appropriations support I have secured for Jersey City over the past nine years, my efforts have helped to mitigate the severity of potential property tax hikes in Jersey City and Hoboken.
8. Is there anything else our readers should know about you?
I’m grateful for this incredible, diverse community that my family calls home. It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve my constituents in the Assembly, and I hope I have earned their confidence to return to me to the Legislature – this time to the upper house. Thank you for the opportunity to respond to these questions.