Rep. Bill Pascrell (D)
New Jersey 8th District
Paterson is one of the few American cities that have turned out pretty much as planned. It was the brainchild of Alexander Hamilton, who in the 1790s journeyed 20 miles from Manhattan to the Great Falls of the Passaic River in New Jersey. Watching the water surge down 72 feet—the highest falls along the East Coast—he predicted an industrial city would rise on the site. Hamilton formed the Society for Establishing Useful Manufactures, which opened a calico factory in 1794, and got Pierre L’Enfant, the designer of Washington, D.C., to design Paterson (named after then-Gov. William Paterson). In 1836, Samuel Colt began manufacturing revolvers here. One of the first American locomotives, the Sandusky, was built in Paterson in 1837. A walkout of cotton workers in 1828 was America’s first factory strike. Paterson ultimately became America’s “Silk City,” employing 25,000 silk-mill workers before the great strike of 1913 led by the radical Industrial Workers of the World. Paterson kept producing locomotives and, after the silk mills started closing down following another unsuccessful strike in 1924, became a cloth-dyeing center. Throughout, it attracted immigrants from England, Ireland, and, after 1890, Italy and Poland. The city continues to attract them today, even if its economy produces more service jobs and fewer manufacturing jobs. In 2000, Paterson’s population was 50% Hispanic, up from 30% in 1990. The city has gained a lively artists’ community in its postindustrial setting, and downtown’s “Little Palestine” reflects the city’s sizable Arab community—Turks, Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, and Jordanians. There is also a politically active Islamic Center in Paterson.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 8th Congressional District includes Paterson (its largest city) and much suburban and industrial territory west and south of Paterson and north of Newark. More than half the population lives in Passaic County; the rest are in Essex County. The district includes the mixed factory and middle-class towns south of Paterson on the Passaic River—Clifton, Nutley, Belleville, Bloomfield, and Passaic, which is majority Hispanic. On higher ground is affluent Montclair, with large populations of well-off African-Americans and Manhattan-oriented Boomers, the most Democratic part of the district outside of Paterson. Over the Watchung Mountain are affluent West Orange and South Orange, both heavily Democratic, and the small Republican towns of Cedar Grove and Verona. In the 1980s, the district leaned Republican; in the 1990s, it became heavily Democratic and remains so.
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D)
Elected: 1996, 7th term.
Born: Jan. 25, 1937, Paterson .
Education: Fordham U., B.A. 1959, M.A. 1961.
Family: Married (Elsie); 3 children.
Military career: Army, 1961; Army Reserves, 1962–67.
Elected office: Pres., Paterson Bd. of Ed., 1979–82; NJ Assembly, 1987–97, Minority ldr. pro tem; Paterson mayor, 1990–97.
Professional Career: High Schl. teacher, 1960–74; Dir., Paterson Dept. of Public Works, 1974–77; Dir., Paterson Dept. of Policy, 1977–87.
The 8th District representative is Bill Pascrell, a Democrat elected in 1996. He grew up in Paterson, the grandson of Italian immigrants. His father worked for the railroad, and Pascrell was the first one in his family to graduate from college. He worked his way through Fordham University, served in the Army, and then taught high school for 14 years. From there Pascrell went into politics, first as director of Paterson’s public works department, and then as school board president. In 1987, he was elected to the New Jersey Assembly. In 1990, Pascrell was elected mayor of Paterson but continued to serve in the Assembly—a common practice in New Jersey until the Legislature voted in 2007 to stop the practice. In 1996, Pascrell challenged first-term U.S. Rep. Bill Martini, a Republican, whom Pascrell portrayed as the tool of an “extremist” House leadership. His ads showed Martini’s face on a puppet being manipulated by Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Despite Martini’s support from the Sierra Club and labor unions, Pascrell rode the coattails of President Clinton, who got 58% of the vote in the district. Pascrell won 51%-48%. Since then, he has received at least 62% of the vote against weak challengers.
|Bill Pascrell (D)||159,279||(71%)||($1,137,316)|
|Roland Straten (R)||63,107||(28%)||($82,227)|
|Bill Pascrell (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (71%), 2004 (69%), 2002 (67%), 2000 (67%), 1998 (62%), 1996 (51%)
In the House, Pascrell has compiled a liberal record on economics and a more moderate one on cultural and foreign issues. He has voted for some restrictions on abortion, including a ban on “partial-birth” abortions and a parental-notification requirement when a woman under 18 crosses state lines for an abortion. In 2002, he voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq, and, on the Homeland Security Committee, he has been a voice for strengthening homeland defense, calling for improved communications among first responders. “How is it we can talk to people on the moon, but we can’t talk one block away?” Pascrell asked. In 2008, he urged then President-elect Barack Obama to conduct a security review of “America’s most dangerous 2 miles”—the refineries, chemical plants, and rail yards between Newark Liberty International Airport and Port Elizabeth.
Pascrell landed a seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee in 2007 after years of lobbying for a spot. He worked with labor and consumer groups to promote “fair trade,” and to expand the Trade Adjustment Assistance program for workers who have lost their jobs. Two other pet projects of Pascrell’s were successful: A bill to designate Paterson’s Great Falls as a 120-acre national park, which was enacted in Mary 2009, and a bill to increase federal research funding for brain injuries, which passed the House in 2008. When later that year a Montclair High School football player died from a brain injury, Pascrell introduced a bill requiring states to pay for neurological testing of student athletes.
Pascrell has harbored ambitions for statewide office. He expressed interest in running for governor in 2001. But his support of former Gov. Jim Florio in the 2000 Senate Democratic primary against Jon Corzine left him on the losing side of the state’s Democratic establishment. In 2005, he supported Corzine for governor in the hopes of succeeding him in the Senate, but the appointment went to U.S. Rep. Robert Menendez. Having gained a Ways and Means seat, Pascrell is less likely to move elsewhere.