Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington) delivered the following remarks at Tuesday’s 217th Assembly Reorganization:
“Thank you so very much.
“I want to thank my family because without them none of this would be possible.
“Your love, support and most of all patience allow me to serve in this important role. I have a tremendous pride in my children, as any father would, but my quiet joy is not watching their personal accomplishments or talents but their use of those talents to serve others in a true commitment and passion to serve others before themselves.
“It is an affirmation that my life of public service and my approach to government has been noticed and embraced by them. They inspire me. I love you so much.
“Today, I start my 11th term in the legislature, my 21st year in the Assembly and my third term as your Majority Leader. I have the same excitement today as I did when I stood on this stage on January 11, 1996 when I first took office. I have an unshakable belief that we can change the state for the better. I have an unshakable confidence that together there’s no problem we cannot solve.
“I know this to be true. While not always elegant and seamless I have watched us achieve success.
“Today is a day of celebration, a day in which we welcome new members of our house to this position of great responsibility.
“Today is also a day of ceremony, a day in which we observe the peaceful transfer of governance from one legislature to the next, under the solemn directives of our constitution.
“Ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake today is a day of crossroads.
“While we have worked hard and solved pressing problems over the course of the last two years, significant challenges remain. And many of those challenges are reaching a breaking point.
“Our highest in the nation property taxes continue to be the root from which so many of our state’s economic challenges are growing. Our crushing property tax burden smothers a fragile economic recovery, stifles our ability to compete with our neighbors, and drives residents out of our state, year after year. This oppressive property tax system does not discriminate. It harms senior citizens, college graduates and middle-class families without question and without mercy.
“And, New Jersey’s property tax crisis has sown the seeds from which other challenges facing our state grow: a broken pension system, now billions of dollars in debt, jeopardizing hard-working men and women, their retirements and their security.
“Broken roads and straining bridges go unattended, crumbling further on a daily basis and threatening the health of our economy and the lives of our families. A Transportation Trust Fund desperately in need of an infusion of capital.
“Moms and dads struggling around kitchen tables forced to choose between saving for college fund and making a mortgage payment.
“Atlantic City, once New Jersey’s jewel on the ocean, faces a daily struggle for survival. Paterson, Camden, Newark, and Trenton continue to see a lack of opportunity for good jobs and quality education for residents.
“So staring in the face of these monumental challenges, why be optimistic? Where does my excitement and passion come from?
“My excitement and energy is rooted in the principle: we were not sent here to complain about the difficulty of the task at hand. We were not sent here to wring our hands or shrug our shoulders or kick cans down the road to future generations because these are tough problems.
“Look, if every vote we ever took was 80-0, you wouldn’t need us. The voters across New Jersey from every corner of our state sent us here to make the difficult choices. They sent us here to exercise judgment and leadership. They have placed their confidence and their trust in those of us present on this stage to help navigate our state through choppy and uncertain waters.
“When I turn around and look into the faces of the men and women behind me, who are ready to take up the call and fight to make New Jersey a better place to call home, I believe. I am immensely proud to stand before you today as the Majority Leader because of the caliber of legislators with whom I share the stage. Legislators who exemplify the spirit and goals of this history-making delegation.
“I was recently asked about my role as Majority Leader. I believe my role as Majority Leader is to lead a caucus of 52 different individual personalities and find common purpose with people of different beliefs but a shared goal. I know I can do this and I love the joy it gives me when it is done right.
“This is a delegation that believes no senior should have to worry about whether she can afford next month’s prescription medication.
“This is a delegation that believes no veteran should have to sleep shivering in the street or wonder where his next meal is coming from.
“This is a delegation that believes my daughters shouldn’t have to look at their paychecks and wonder why they don’t earn as much as my son, for doing the same job.
“This is a delegation that knows health care should not be dependent on the size of a bank account or the names in your Rolodex but believes access to quality health care is a fundamental right of every citizen and not a privilege.
“This is a delegation that knows that women’s health matters and that it is not a choice to find revenue for life saving health screenings for breast cancer, cervical cancer and other serious conditions. It is a moral obligation of those who serve.
“And while I know the discussion of gun reform legislation creates anxiety within our political circles, I also know that each of us watch the anguish in the streets and communities that look just like ours. As we watch another memorial service with a grieving father clutching his fallen son, we are all united in our sorrow and our desire to ensure these tragedies are never repeated.
“These are shared fears and concerns of every resident of every community in our state. Our mission should be to overcome these fears and solve these problems. My role, our role, is to not just roll up our sleeves, but to reach out our hands across the political divide and find common purpose with people of different views and beliefs in a shared goal to solve these problems.
“When I think about the difficult issues facing our state today, I am comforted to know the members of this delegation will not back down but will stand up to tackle the task at hand. I look behind me at some of my caucus members who are leading the way.
“I think of Patrick Diegnan, who leads our education committee with sharp intellect and true grace, who understands that our schools should not be just about creating a series of test scores or statistics, that they are about helping to shape and nurture young men and women who will grow to lead businesses, nonprofits, and perhaps even sit on this stage someday.
“I think of Wayne DeAngelo, an electrician who knows what it means when we talk about the need to fix our infrastructure and create projects that put people to work.
“I think of Joe Lagana who, in his first term in the Assembly, charged headfirst to attack the devastating epidemic of heroin addiction that poisons too many young lives and tears too many families apart. He didn’t worry about polling or easy sound bites when he took up this fight. Joe fights this fight because it’s simply the right thing to do.
“I think of Grace Spencer, who uses her considerable legal intellect and courtroom experience not only as a practicing attorney, but who wields these gifts as a steadfast advocate for justice and fairness for all on the Assembly floor.
“I think of Benjie Wimberly, a teacher by trade, who has dedicated his life to mentoring young men and women in the city of Paterson to achieve their full potential.
“New Jerseyans know the difficulty of the challenges we face. They want a government that keeps its promises–a government that doesn’t quit or fall to partisan bickering when the going gets tough. A government that actually looks like, sounds like, and embodies the spirit of the people it represents.
“When I look back on the results of this November’s election that brings these members here today, a few things become crystal clear:
· New Jersey families are tired of politicians who cave to narrow partisan interests instead of fighting for the greater good.
· New Jersey families are tired of politicians who turn their eyes to other opportunities instead of focusing on the problems that we face.
· New Jersey families are tired of politicians who pander to the divisive politics of yesterday, instead of leading us together toward a better tomorrow.
“As I traveled around the state last year, from Paramus to Freehold to Vineland, the conversation was always the same: Equal pay for equal work. Women’s health care. Improving our schools. Using common sense solutions to combat gun violence. Addressing our crumbling infrastructure. Investing in the success of our young people. Providing real property tax relief.
“These issues are at the center of some of the most important public policy debates we face today. They are not just campaign issues. They are issues that matter to millions of residents of our state.
“We know these challenges will not simply wilt in the face of our resolve. We know that solutions will not be easy to find. And we certainly know that true change will not happen unless we make it happen.
“Ladies and gentlemen: We have a lot of work to do for the people who sent us here. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
“Thank you. God bless you and may God continue to bless the great state of New Jersey.”