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Jack Ciattarelli

Who is Jack Ciattarelli? The Republican giving Democrats a scare in New Jersey

Trenton Bureau

BERGEN, N.J. 鈥 Up until the last year or so, Jack Ciattarelli was mostly known as a moderate policy wonk with a hard-to-pronounce last name.

That鈥檚 changed drastically in his underdog bid to unseat Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy.

The 59-year-old Republican former Assemblyman, accountant and medical publisher (whose last name is pronounced Chet-a-relli)听 has spent less time talking tax policy and more time fending off the toxic labels of 鈥渂颈驳辞迟,鈥 鈥渆xtremist鈥 and, perhaps most damaging of all in the heavily Democratic state, 鈥淭rump loyalist.鈥

It鈥檚 in one way a function of campaigning that candidates unleash the most vicious attacks on their opponent鈥檚 character to dissuade undecided voters from supporting them.

But it also illustrates the political quagmire Ciattarelli has found himself in after initially denouncing Donald Trump as a 鈥渃harlatan鈥 but then supporting him as president and, knowingly or not, attending a 鈥淪top the Steal鈥 rally last year.

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NJ Gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli poses for photos on the platform at the Harsimus Cove Light Rail Station in Jersey City on 09/21/21.

As much as Ciattarelli wanted听to make the 2021 gubernatorial campaign one of ideas, many voters may听have been introduced to him as an unqualified right-winger, thanks to Murphy鈥檚 well-financed campaign.

But his record in politics 鈥 as a Raritan councilman, a Somerset County freeholder and a state lawmaker 鈥 does not resemble a Trump extremist.

Quite the opposite.

Where听Trump often hurled obscenities, one of Ciattarelli鈥檚 most notable achievements was his involvement in passing what became known as a cursing ban in Raritan in the mid-1990s.

More:Why New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says he deserves a second term in November

Democrats turned that into a sort of demerit on his Jersey scorecard, cutting an ad featuring people on the street reacting colorfully 鈥 鈥渘o f------听way,鈥 one person responded, while another said 鈥渨hat an a------.鈥

People close to Ciattarelli naturally do not agree.

鈥淗e鈥檚 kind, he鈥檚 courteous, he鈥檚 generous,鈥 said Anthony DeCicco, the mayor of Raritan when the ordinance passed.

鈥淛ack is a more moderate, intelligent man that knows exactly what鈥檚 going on. He鈥檚 not somebody who goes to extremes,鈥 DeCicco said. 鈥淛ack is someone that takes a position on something, reviews it, analyzes it and then makes an intelligent decision. That鈥檚 what should happen.鈥

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The first New Jersey gubernatorial debate between incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli, pictured, is being held at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ on September 28, 2021. Republican Ciattarelli appears on stage alone for for a photo opportunity prior to the debate.

A career in politics

DeCicco may be the person most responsible for Ciattarelli鈥檚 rise in politics.

He recruited Ciattarelli decades ago, when he was a Seton Hall accounting graduate with no political aspirations. DeCicco was also a neighbor and friend of the Ciattarelli family in Raritan.

Seeing that he was intelligent and hardworking, DeCicco said he offered Ciattarelli an听opportunity in politics because 鈥淚 needed someone to help us with the budget.鈥

Ciattarelli delivered, DeCicco said, by 鈥渄issecting鈥 the borough鈥檚 finances and finding savings to hold down taxes.

Despite many years of public service, Ciattarelli does not have an extensive record to examine. That is partly due to the fact that municipal and county achievements are often collective efforts and that Ciattarelli was in the minority in the Legislature.

As a Somerset County freeholder, Ciattarelli said he focused听on managing spending during the Great Recession. One of his running mates and fellow freeholder, Rick Fontana, said Ciattarelli was "always watching the pennies."听

Ciattarelli said the county 鈥渉eld the line鈥 and downsized government 鈥渨hile not adversely affecting the quality of life.鈥 He also touts that he led the creation of the board鈥檚 first energy council and took steps to preserve听open space.

More:Murphy, NJ Dems campaign ad goes full Jersey on Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli

The first New Jersey gubernatorial debate between incumbent Gov. Phil Murphy (D-NJ) and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli, pictured, is being held at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ on September 28, 2021. Republican Ciattarelli appears on stage alone for for a photo opportunity prior to the debate.

A record in the Assembly

In the Legislature representing the 16th district from 2011-18, Ciattarelli hewed to the fiscally conservative, socially moderate tradition of most Republicans in New Jersey.

He was a prime sponsor in 2014 of a bipartisan bill to broaden access for immigrants in the US illegally听to attend听college in New Jersey, but the measure didn鈥檛 advance to then-Republican Gov. Chris Christie.

Much of the legislation he sponsored focused on finances with little fanfare, but one law he got passed that gained attention at the time criminalized bestiality, which had surprisingly not been outlawed.

Ciattarelli did, however, vote along with fellow Republicans against $7.5 million in state funding for Planned Parenthood. Murphy restored that funding when he took office in 2018, and he and his campaign have used Ciattarelli鈥檚 opposition as one of the examples of him being 鈥渁nti-woman鈥 and 鈥渁nti-choice.鈥

Ciatterelli has said he supports a woman鈥檚 right to choose but does not support abortion beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy and would rather spend state money on agencies that promote women鈥檚 health, not just Planned Parenthood.

Murphy has also criticized Ciattarelli's plan to overhaul the state's school funding formula as one that would harm Black and brown communities by reducing aid to urban areas and redistributing it to suburban and rural municipalities.

Ciattarelli has said his formula would be fairer to taxpayers without leaving any communities behind.听

He intended in the Legislature to revise the state's school funding formula in an effort to lower property taxes, but "what I quickly learned is that is an impossibility when you鈥檙e in the minority," Ciattarelli said.听

"At the same time, not being able to accomplish the large goals that drove me to run for the Legislature in the first place is what motivated me to run for governor in 2017," he said.

That run ended in defeat in the Republican primary against then-Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who lost to Murphy.

With the New York City skyline behind him, Jack Ciattarelli proposed a series of tax cuts at an event in Weehawken on Sept. 16, 2021.

Trying to appeal to swing voters

As a fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republican, Ciattarelli 鈥渞eflects a great swath of New Jersey with those positions,鈥 said Al Gaburo, a longtime friend of Ciattarelli鈥檚 and the former chairman of the Somerset County Republicans.

鈥淚t鈥檚 all about balance and about being where the mainstream of New Jersey is,鈥 he added, 鈥渁nd I just think Jack has always been in the mainstream of New Jersey.鈥

But it's his association with Trump and policy positions during听the COVID-19 pandemic that could repel the unaffiliated and Democratic voters Ciattarelli needs to become governor, critics said.

He attended a 鈥淪top the Steal鈥 rally late last year 鈥 unknowingly, he said 鈥 and opposes Murphy鈥檚 school mask mandates and vaccine requirements for certain workers.

The people who know and have worked with Ciattarelli said he is the same person he鈥檚 always been. They described him as an energetic, policy-focused family man who, agree with him or not, has the state鈥檚 best interests in mind.

鈥淗e鈥檚 the kind of guy who thinks about, What am I going to leave my kids in the state of New Jersey?鈥 Fontana said.

鈥淲e鈥檝e talked about this. I don鈥檛 think he鈥檚 changed much at all.鈥

Jack Ciattarelli bio

础驳别:听59

Experience: Ciattarelli is听a certified public accountant who ran a medical publishing business. He served on the Raritan Borough Council, the Somerset County freeholder board and in the general Assembly before running for governor.听

贵补尘颈濒测:听Wife, Melinda, and four children

More:COVID relief money would build new schools in poor areas, Jack Ciattarelli says

Dustin Racioppi听is a reporter in the New Jersey Statehouse. For unlimited access to his听work covering New Jersey鈥檚听governor听and political power structure,听please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

贰尘补颈濒:听racioppi@northjersey.com

Twitter:听听

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