Good morning to you Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen of the Commission.
My name is Vincent Kearney. I am a resident and Councilman in the Borough of Garwood, Union County’s “small town with a big heart”, which I think of as the heart of the 7th Congressional District. Before moving to Garwood in 2009, I grew up in the Township of Union, which I’ll get to in a moment.
Thank you to the Commission for meeting in a variety of locations and formats, making this a very accessible process. I am here today to speak about a topic of vital importance to my community: The setting of FAIR districts in the State of New Jersey by this Commission.
As a former resident of Union, the history of how the current 7th District came to exist illustrates exactly why we all must demand better redistricting in 2021. Because the creation of so-called “safe” districts was entertained by previous Commissions, it is possible to cross a street in my old hometown and have a different Representative in Congress. Prior to moving to Garwood, despite living in Union, I was somehow in the 10th Congressional District. I know this odd experience also applies in nearby Scotch Plains.
Ladies and gentlemen, having a municipality in a state as densely populated as New Jersey represented by two members of Congress is frankly ridiculous, and certainly disruptive to residents and local elected officials like me when something is needed at the Federal level as many others have noted. We are facing issues as unique as a global pandemic to severe flooding, affecting entire regions, yet in many parts of our state communities are chopped up into gerrymanders which negatively affect everyone’s representation in Congress. Representation which we desperately need to be our advocates for resources and support, both when disaster strikes and for the long term investments our communities require to thrive.
We need our municipalities to have consistent advocacy in Washington. We need our districts drawn fairly so that the voice of the people is heard. We do not need to create new “safe seats”. The current 7th district was drawn to be a “safe seat”. The election of 2018 proved no seat is “safe” forever and that VOTERS should have the ultimate say on who represents them based upon the issues most important to them.
I am asking this Commission, please do not punish the people of the 7th District for choosing to make a change in 2018. We need a Representative who will advocate for this District on issues as varied as the SALT deduction to transit to flood control. That will not happen if this Commission slices and dices the 7th up, turning my neighboring town of Westfield into the eastern border of yet another “safe” district designed to serve the narrow interests of a legacy politician rather than the people of New Jersey. I urge this Commision to make Union and Scotch Plains whole as parts of the 7th District, and to consider the importance of what I’ve said here today when addressing the need to balance both population and fair local representation throughout our state.