Lesniak Faces Primary Challenge From Citibank VP

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State Sen. Ray Lesniak

State Sen. Ray Lesniak

UNION COUNTY — Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak was defeated only once in his political career, when he challenged incumbent Elizabeth Mayor Thomas G. Dunn, but now he is defending against an unprecedented attack from Wall Street banker Donna Obe.

Obe, a vice president at Citibank who was formerly an associate at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase, charges that Lesniak is part of the wealthy “one percent” despite her career in three of the “too big to fail” financial institutions that created the global economic crisis.

To highlight his record of serving working families, Lesniak released a long list of labor union endorsements, ranging from the New Jersey Education Association and Communication Workers of America to the Building and Construction Trades Council and the Iron Workers District Council of Northern New Jersey.

Obe’s campaign against Lesniak, the former state Democratic Party chairman who became good friends with Bill Clinton and then led efforts to abolish New Jersey’s death penalty, has primarily been driven by Rafael Fajardo, Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s closest ally in urban Union County.

Lesniak wants Congress to enact better federal gun-control measures and he has sponsored several pieces of legislation to prevent gun violence, including a bill to declare violence a public health crisis.

Obe attacked him for sponsoring legislation that ended mandatory jail terms, which had a disproportionate impact in urban areas, but Lesniak said he is proud to have stopped thousands of young city residents from facing time behind bars for crimes that typically net probation for suburbanites.

Several affordable housing advocates say Obe mangled the truth to make Lesniak’s reform legislation look bad.

“Senator Lesniak has been a tenacious leader in trying to solve New Jersey’s devastating foreclosure crisis,” according to Diane Sterner, executive director of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.

Krishna Garlic, chief executive officer at Brand New Day, Inc., called Lesniak, “a consistent advocate for housing reform that provides access to quality affordable housing in all communities.”

She moved from her native New York to Roselle about 10 years ago, but Obe would not answer questions from this newspaper about herself, her issue positions and her motivation for taking on one of the state’s top Democratic lawmakers.

Democratic leaders such as Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, Newark Mayor Cory Booker and gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono have been front and center defending Lesniak against his attackers. Even Roselle Mayor Jamel Holley has been actively opposing the nomination of his own Board of Education President.

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