By JENNIFER MANDELBLATT
When I was asked if I thought Barbara Buono had a chance at winning the New Jersey Governor’s seat, I often replied, “Yes. The voters are capable of seeing that Buono has the right vision for New Jersey and the plans to turn her platform into reality.” I will admit, I never truly believed that the end would bring a victory; but, I really wanted to. I wanted to believe that the hours spent in the office (an empty pizza parlor), the afternoons spent knocking on doors and the instances in which voters said that calling for support was a violation of the Constitution, were not a waste of time. More than that, I wanted to believe that if we persisted against all odds, New Jersey would elect the leader it needed, the leader it deserved. Surprisingly, though, it is now after Buono’s loss that I can say with confidence the campaign made a difference.
The democratic process only works if people have a choice, and our government is only as strong as the people’s faith in it. Barbara Buono was the only willing Democrat to stand up against Chris Christie’s money and name recognition, but she had an honest grassroots movement, made up by a coalition of those who understood her vision. And through the campaign volunteers, she was able to reach out to constituents who felt as though they had been forgotten.
Many of the phone calls and door-to-door events during the campaign were met with answering machines or empty houses; however, a number of voters found the discussions to be a supportive outlet for their frustrations and concerns. I remember staying on the line with a woman who was struggling to keep up with the rise in property taxes and assuring her that Buono would work to cut them. I remember standing at the door speaking to a mother and her son in a suffering school district about the changes that must be made to public education. I remember the people asking for gun control, women’s rights and job training programs, and other solutions to issues that were silenced during Christie’s first term. And though Buono will not be the one to explicitly turn these conversations into the governor’s agenda, the voters now have reason to demand change. Chris Christie will be held accountable for resolving the issues our campaign brought to the surface.
Barbara Buono did not win the election, but neither did she fail. The only way the Democratic candidate would have truly been defeated is if she sat idly by and allowed Christie to run unopposed. If she did not lead and we did not campaign, the silence would have allowed the Governor to continue to ignore the needs of his people and turned him into a temporary, but de facto, monarch. It is said that “decisions are made by those who show up,” and cloaked in clear vision and worthy promises, Barbara Buono made her presence known and her ideas heard.
Victory was the end goal for the 2013 election, but not the only one; because, contrary to popular belief, the purpose of government is not to tally the wins and losses of opponents. Rather, the purpose of government is about making a difference for the people. By raising the issues and creating dialogue, Buono did just that.