Fudging politics: HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge visiting New Jersey today

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia L. Fudge said she would be in New Jersey today to speak with affordable housing leaders from Newark and Trenton about her agency’s work to address our nation’s housing crisis.

She was actually here to help Rep. Donald Payne Jr. and Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora win elections that they probably deserve to lose.

Critics say Fudge made her appearance in large part to bolster the re-election campaign of Rep. Donald Payne Jr., who is facing his first significant primary challenger since he won a special election to succeed his father, who died in 2012.

This year, Payne faces Imani Oakley, a political organizer, and former Capitol Hill and New Jersey Legislature staffer who reported impressive fundraising numbers in advance of the June 6 Democratic primary.

Oakley has been endorsed by four local Sunrise Movement chapters, the Elect Black Women PAC and Black Lives Matter PAC.

For the typically quiet Payne, a former Newark city councilman who has often worked behind the scenes, it has meant talking more about his record while lining up endorsements and diving into fundraising.

Payne is hoping voters do not hold him accountable for failing to secure funding for a new rail tunnel under the Hudson River while he was chairman of the House Transportation Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee.

For decades, New Jersey has recognized the need for a Hudson River crossing to replace those built at the start of the last century.

The existing 110-year-old tunnels are currently used by 450-plus Amtrak and NJ Transit trains each day to move tens of thousands of commuters into New York City daily.

Amtrak proposed the first iteration of the Gateway Project in February 2011 in response to the October 2010 cancelation of the ARC tunnel project by Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

“I’m starting to talk about the things that I’ve accomplished because it seems like there is a disconnect from what I’m doing and people knowing what I’ve done,” said Payne.

After meeting with students, Fudge was joined by affordable housing leaders in the Newark community to get candid about the challenges they face in their backyard and the ways HUD funding can support their goals of expanding equitable access to affordable housing.

In Trenton, Fudge joined beleaguered Mayor Reed Gusciora, who will be seeking re-election in November despite record-setting numbers of murders, and a throng of other Mercer County politicians.

They cut the ribbon on Jennings Village, an affordable housing development in North Trenton owned by Edward Martoglio and RPM Development Group.

Fudge visited New Jersey twice before since she was confirmed as HUD Secretary, each time with officials heading into Democratic primaries: Gov. Phil Murphy in May 2021, and Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen in June 2021.

In his five campaigns from 2012 through 2020, Payne’s total fundraising never topped $600,000, while the amount raised by the average House member ranged from $1.7 million to $2.7 million per cycle, according to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan campaign finance tracking site. 

It didn’t matter though. Payne has easily won reelection each cycle, and according to Federal Election Commission filings, he had significant cash advantages over his opponents each election cycle. In some cycles, in fact, he faced opponents who spent no money. 

Oakley said that Payne has benefited from New Jersey’s “machine” style of politics and that he has been inactive in the role so voters don’t know him. She is pushing issues like housing and the environment and says the district needs “somebody who is not just inheriting a seat and keeping it warm.” 

“When I go door-to-door and when we’re canvassing, the No. 1 thing I hear, before I even get to talk about policy, is that people are ready for a change here in New Jersey,” she said. “They use the phrase, ‘We’re ready for a new blood.’”

Payne has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood Action Fund, New Jersey Education Association, the New Jersey Working Families Party, 32BJ SEIU, the Communications Workers of America NJ, Laborers’ International North America Eastern Region, the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association and AFSCME NJ. He announced the support of U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker as well as Governor Phil Murphy, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.

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