For Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, his campaign to be the Democratic nominee in the 37th Legislative District for State Senate is a natural progression of a career dedicated to serving his community.
“I have been a public servant all my adult life, starting as a police officer in the city of Englewood, serving as the Bergen County Sheriff, serving a three year term for the council of Englewood,” said Johnson in a recent one-on-one interview with North-JerseyNews.com. “My whole life has been public service and serving my community, my country and as Assemblyman, my state.”
But his primary campaign, one of the state’s most hotly contested races as it matchups up the Assemblyman against fellow Assembly member Valerie Vainieri Huttle, has not been without its issues—Johnson has had to answer questions about being a product of the party, his original running mates dropping out and alleged inappropriate comments made to a female politician.
Running Mate Issues
Johnson’s running mates are former Tenafly Councilwoman Shama Haider and former Englewood Cliffs Councilwoman Ellen Park, elected to be on the party line after Teaneck Democratic Municipal Chair Alexandra Soriano-Taveras dropped out of the race due to anti-Semitic remarks and Palisades Park Mayor Christopher Chung decide not to seek an Assembly seat after a scathing state report on his town’s finances.
Johnson believes the process of selecting candidates worked in Bergen County while noting he had no say who were his Assembly running mates. The nomination process has been an issue at the center of Vainieri Huttle’s campaign, who decided to bypass the Democrats county line for what she perceived as favoritism towards Johnson.
“When I decided to run for the Senate seat I went door to door to our committee members asking for their support and because of my proven ability to get things done for LD37—to call it rigged is just sour grapes,” stated Johnson.
“(Soriano-Taveras and Chung) were selected after putting their papers in to run, then issues came up and then they dropped out. That is just the democratic process and shows our system works,” said Johnson, who has received the endorsement of Gov. Phil Murphy. “We now have two great candidates running.”
The campaign between Johnson and Vainieri Huttle intensified when Deidere Paul in March went public with her accusation that Johnson in 2008 made comments to her that were “inappropriate and unacceptable coming from a public official” and of “past and present sexual improprieties.”
Johnson responded that he had never been accused of inappropriate behavior before and does not have any recollection of this meeting with Paul where she alleges he offered to help her move up the political ladder if she became a member of his “concubine.”
“I am not going to disparage her in any way. Dr. Paul supported me before this email came out and she supported me after,” stated Johnson, who said since the allegations became public he has attempted to reach Dr. Paul but has not spoken to her.
Battle Against Vainieri Huttle
The resume highlighting his years of service is why Johnson believes he was chosen by the county’s Democratic party to succeed the retiring State Sen. Loretta Weinberg. Both Johnson and Vainieri Huttle have made continuing the progressive policies of Weinberg central to their campaign, whose decision to retire set the table for the primary contest between the Assembly colleagues.
“As the senior member of the 37th in the Assembly, I am best suited for this position,” said Johnson. “There is no stronger voice for open, inclusive, and transparent party conventions than Senator Weinberg and she has not only called the party process fair, she has endorsed me as her successor.”
It is Johnson’s connection to the community and interaction with local officials that he believes differentiates him as the better candidate.
“I am more of a hands on, grassroots person. I am out in the street, meeting the people,” said Johnson. “I enjoy hearing the issues and concerns of the people of the 37th, then bringing them back to articulate these concerns in Trenton. I do not think that is Valerie’s style.”
For the Englewood resident, succeeding Weinberg’s would mean keeping social justice issues front and center.
“Social justice is making sure that everyone in this state has the opportunity to realize what we call the American Dream no matter your race, color, creed, or sexual orientation,” said Johnson. “We are all human beings, we are all here to enjoy the American Dream. I am dedicating myself to make sure that happens.”
Social justice has been at the forefront of American politics this past year, especially for those looking for police reform and transparency. As a Black man with a police and military background—an Army reservist, Johnson served in Desert Storm and Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia in the 1990s—the Assemblyman seems himself as being uniquely qualified to be a bridge to those looking for reforms and those in law enforcement.
“With my police and law enforcement background, it allows me to give a different and more informed perspective the way policing should be done in our communities,” said Johnson. “We want transparency for any issues that come up…with disciplinary actions, people want to know what happened and what is the outcome as much as they are allowed to know. We want better transparency when it comes to issues.”
Johnson has advocated for police engagement procedures to be reviewed, starting with the training at police academies in New Jersey.
“I think the curriculum for police training in New Jersey should include how to interact with different people of different cultures,” he said. “When I was a police officer, I taught patrol diversity at the police academies. I think if a police officer has an understanding of the culture and customs of the people he or she are serving, there will be better communication between those in the community.”
Besides social justice, Johnson’s agenda as a State Senator would emphasize expanding green energy in the state. He said he was proud to have led delegations that traveled to Germany, Switzerland and England to view the offshore wind projects as a precursor to those projects starting along the Atlantic seaboard.
“Green energy is important to me as we try to get us off fossil fuel,” said Johnson. “I am very pleased to see that starting to happen in Southern New Jersey, with the project beginning off the coast of Atlantic City.”
The effort extends to the cars we drive.
“I am trying to incentivise car manufacturers—including Honda, Hyundai, Totoya, BMW—to bring hydrogen fuel cell cars from the West Coast to the East Coast,” said Johnson. “I am trying to bring their cars by setting up an infrastructure for these vehicles that can be used here.”
The campaign has highlighted the historis nature of the ticket if they win—Johnson being the first Black State Senator from Bergen County, Haider the first Pakistani American and Muslim and Park the first Korean American woman to serve in the State Legislature.
“I like to use the term Rainbow Coalition…it is a wonderful, inclusive ticket,” said Johnson. “I am proud to be part of making history. We are going to represent the people of the 37th District to the best of our abilities and take this moment forward.”