GOP Candidate Insults Callers, Dodges Questions and Tries to Wiggle Away From Extreme Positions in Devastating Interview with WNYC 

Ciattarelli Shows New Jersey He is Not Ready for Prime Time

TRENTON, NJ — Republican gubernatorial candidate Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli called into The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC today, but he probably wishes he didn’t. Assemblyman Ciattarelli absolutely bombed in one of his highest-profile media appearances of the campaign, often taking a combative tone with the host and New Jersey residents who called in, even insulting one caller by insinuating that the guest has a mental health issue simply for asking Ciattarelli for his definition of white privilege

Among the other most illuminating moments in the interview:

  • Ciattarelli was repeatedly pressed by Lehrer to admit that his plan to “flatten” school funding would lead to state education aid cuts in low income communities. As he has throughout the campaign, Ciattarelli refused to provide any specifics of his plan and ducked Lehrer’s questions repeatedly. 
  • The Republican candidate responded to Lehrer citing statistics about the state’s wealth gap for Black and Latino residents by claiming that “Italian immigrants, the Polish immigrants, the Jewish immigrants” faced the same challenges
  • A caller from Parsippany asked Ciattarelli if he supported the state’s millionaire’s tax, and the candidate refused to answer even after Lehrer asked for clarification, repeating “What I believe in New Jersey is we need a tax code that works for all New Jerseyans” over and over again. 
  • Later when asked if he has any policies that would help the LGBTQ community by a caller from his home town of Raritan, Ciattarelli could only muster a repeated “I’ll be responsive to all citizens and address all their needs.” 
  • Things got so bad for Jack that when Lehrer asked him if we wanted to make a closing statement, the candidate declined and preferred to end the interview right there rather than risk any further embarrassment. 

“If Jack Ciattarelli wilts under the pressure of a public radio interview when asked simple questions about race and equity, then he clearly can’t handle being Governor of the most diverse state in the country,” said NJDSC Executive Director Saily Avelenda. “Clearly Jack Ciattarelli has no idea what kind of struggles Black and Brown communities in New Jersey face every day, and sadly the extreme right-wing policies he champions would harm those residents in our state most of all. This interview is more proof that Jack Ciattarelli is hopelessly out of touch with our state and totally unprepared and unqualified to be governor.” 

A full transcript of the WNYC interview with highlighted sections is below: 

[0:00] BL: He is the Republican nominee for Governor of New Jersey, Jack Ciattarelli. He’s 59 years old, grew up in Raritan where I read that his grandparents had immigrated from Italy. Used to serve in the state legislature from around there, call it west and a little south of New York City. If you’re not a Jerseyite who knows the state, the 16th Assembly District, which also includes Princeton, South Brunswick, Flemington, Manville, Somerville, and out to the Pennsylvania line over there. He went to Seton Hall for both a Bachelor’s in accounting and a Master’s in finance. As you heard in a recap of the first debate on yesterday’s show, he disagrees with the incumbent Democrat Phil Murphy on a whole lot of issues, ranging from property taxes and education to abortion funding and guns. Mr. Ciattarelli, thanks so much for coming on. Welcome to WNYC.

[0:53] JC: Well, it’s great to be with you. Thank you for having me.

[0:55] BL: Do you want to introduce yourself personally? A little more to our listeners, those who may not be familiar with you. Did I get it right that your grandparents immigrated from Italy to the Raritan area?

[1:07] JC: I could not have asked for a better introduction. You did your homework. You nailed it. Yeah, my grandparents came here from Italy about 100 years ago, settled in Raritan, New Jersey, Somerset County, a small Italian enclave. My mother was one of eight from Brooklyn. She was born here. My parents met in the summer of 49, married in 1950, and raised four children. It was a magnificent middle-class upbringing here in New Jersey. They owned a restaurant/bar, my parents did. I think their entrepreneurship and owning their own business is what motivated all their children. All three of us, my sister, my brother, and I have all been small business owners in New Jersey, employing fellow New Jerseyans. I did serve at every level of state government, municipal government, I know what potholes and public safety are all about. County government, I know what infrastructure and social services are all about. Three-year terms in the state legislature, I know what waste, inefficiency and a government corrupted by special interests are all about.

[2:07] BL: How do you think that middle-class childhood that your reference influenced you to become a Republican?

[2:15] JC: Knowing how to do more with less, certainly, has influenced me in my life. Being able to identify with everyday hardworking New Jerseyans has certainly a great influence in my life. But also the notion of supporting the individual, empowering the individual liberty, my parents always taught us to be self-sufficient. They always told us we are our brothers and sisters’ keeper. But they believed in self-reliance. And they believe in being self-sufficient, not being a burden to your community, if at all possible. But more than anything, what influenced me in being Republican is just being in love with Abraham Lincoln philosophy on life, and the government. Those have been the major influences, I think, in me being Republican.

[3:05] BL: Abraham Lincoln philosophy, a lot of Democrats, maybe a lot of African Americans would bristle at that coming from a Republican today. When you talk about the individual, that would probably be different from what many Democrats may want as an orientation right now, which would be something more toward equity in a very unequal time as the first word out of somebody’s mouth. So how critical are you of more equity being a central organizing principle for a political candidate in 2021?

[3:41] JC: Abraham Lincoln was all about education, government investment in infrastructure and providing individuals with economic opportunity because that’s what provides freedom, liberty, and the opportunity to live your life, the pursuit of life, liberty, and the like. So we want people to know they can achieve their American Dream here in New Jersey. The way to do this is by providing an opportunity and security. And that’s really what it is that I’m all about. Again, I believe in the individual, I believe in empowering the individual with liberty, and that’s what leads to freedom, all kinds of freedom. And so really, that’s what I’m all about as a person. I’ve always gone out as a candidate and talked about how a common sense conservative approach to governance is what provides opportunity and security, the two things that everybody wants.

[4:34] BL: I’m gonna follow up on why empowering the individual, which you’ve been emphasizing a couple of times already, doesn’t lead to more inequality, if that’s your central grounding. For example, according to a report last year, from the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the median wealth for a white family in New Jersey is around 352,000 dollars. For a black New Jersey family $6,000 and 7,000 for Latinos. 80% of white families in the state owned their own home, just 40% of blacks and Latinos. Newark, Camden and Paterson rank among the poorest cities in America. So can you convince listeners that emphasizing individual liberty makes you the candidate to deal effectively with inequality unless you don’t think it’s a central issue?

[5:33] JC: If you go back 100 years, those very same statistics might have been applied to the Italian immigrants, the Polish immigrants, the Jewish immigrants, that all came to the United States. What I’m all about is providing each and every one of our 9 million citizens in New Jersey with opportunity and security. I’m all about empowering every one of those individuals with liberty to ensure that each one of them can achieve their American Dream. That’s what equality means to me, knowing that each and every one of our citizens can achieve their American Dream right here in New Jersey.

[6:12] BL: Do you think a lack of liberty is what’s holding African American and Latino family wealth down so far below white family wealth?

[6:23] JC: I think what causes any individual, no matter what their race, creed or color, the opportunity to achieve their American Dream is a lack of opportunity. We have to look at those groups throughout New Jersey that are not getting the same access to education, the same that are not getting access to healthcare, that are not getting access to capital. Those are just some examples that if you’re not getting equal access to education, healthcare, capital, business opportunity, that’s not fair. That’s certainly something we would need to address.

[7:00] BL: How would you address some of those?

[7:03] JC: Well, if you look at my gubernatorial platform, which is for all to see on my website, you will see that I talk about the need, for example, to reinvest in our urban centers, and have them experience the kind of revitalization we’ve seen in other parts of the state. So that people that live there have opportunities. It’s a very specific plan. It is a very specific plan to address decades of disinvestment in some of our urban centers.

[7:36] BL: When you’re talking about investing in the urban centers, in the debate the other night, you promised a new school funding formula that you call flatter and more equal, which Governor Murphy at least meant or I guess you were saying flat out, you tell us, that you would spend less on education for low-income kids.

[7:58] JC: I never said I would spend less. What I did say is I will never leave any student behind. I will never leave any community behind. I will never adversely affect the quality of education. But what we do need, while achieving those goals, is a flatter and more equitable distribution of state aid. It is not fair that a million-dollar home in Jersey City and Hoboken pay less in property taxes than a $400,000 home in Toms River, Hillsborough or Parsippany and a great many other towns across the state. That’s not fair. The reason why that dynamic exists is because of the current school funding formula. Phil Murphy continues to send state aid to people that own million dollar homes in places like Hoboken and Jersey City, I don’t think that’s fair if they’re paying less in property taxes than a $400,000 home in, again, Toms River, Hillsborough or Parsippany.

[8:56] BL: But what would that do to the funding for the poor schools in the cities?

[9:02] JC: I am not going to leave any student behind, I’m not gonna leave any community behind, and I will not affect the quality of education. But I’m not gonna have the owner of a million-dollar home paying less in property taxes than the owner of a $400,000 home.

[9:15] BL: But just to be clear, does that mean that less aid from those lower tax, those lower tax rates for some would be going to schools in low-income areas?

[9:33] JC: I think what we should have across the state is some kind of equity with regard to what the reasonable range of a cost is, what the cost is to educate a pupil.

[9:46] BL: Explain that.

[9:50] JC: Well, there’s inequity with the current school funding formula when some districts are spending $28,000 per student and other districts are spending $15,000 per student.

[10:02] BL: Some Democrats say it’s the wealthy district spending that pushes up the property tax. 30,000 per pupil in Alpine, 29,000 in Saddle River from the numbers I’ve seen, for kids without social disadvantages. Should they lower spending for the sake of property taxes?

[10:22] JC: What you just mentioned are outliers. That is not the case across the vast majority of our school districts in New Jersey.

[10:31] BL: As opposed to?

[10:36] JC: As opposed to? You just mentioned a couple of towns.

[10:41] BL: Right. So I’m asking you to.

[10:44] JC: What I am saying is those towns are outliers. That is not the case in terms of what the cost per pupil is across the vast majority of towns throughout New Jersey.

[10:53] BL: My guest is Republican gubernatorial candidate for New Jersey, JC. We can take a few phone calls for him. Campaign interview, obviously, ask him about his positions on issues. 646-435-7286. Let’s turn to COVID related policies. In the debate this week, Governor Murphy said he heard from you wiggle room on vaccinations and not so sure on masking. He said that’s like Texas. True or false that New Jersey should be more like Texas.

[11:36] JC: That’s ridiculous. And that’s just one of many ridiculous things the Governor said the other night. I’m vaccinated, I promoted my vaccination, I encourage people to get vaccinated. At the same time, I’ve never felt as though the government has a right to tell anybody they have to take a medicine.

[11:54] BL: Do you support the court’s decision this week? It sounds like probably not. That Mayor Baraka can require vaccinations with no opt out for testing for city employees.

[12:05] JC: I believe the right policy is what Governor Murphy did for teachers. He gave them a choice. You either get vaccinated, or you get tested twice a week.

[12:15] BL: One would say I mean, some Democrats would say, you and other Republicans want zero tolerance, law and order, if you will, on deadly criminals, but more tolerance on deadly COVID spreaders and that that’s an inconsistency. What would your response to them be?

[12:38] JC: It’s a ridiculous statement. I’m not even going to respond to it. What I will say is with regard to the rule of law, we’ll have an Attorney General under my administration that backs the men and women in blue, so they can do their job. The current Governor has supported an Attorney General that has disarmed, demoralized and handcuffed our police. We need to be able to get rid of bad cops, even cops agree with that. At the same time we need to support our men and women in blue.

[13:09] BL: Tim in Parsippany, you’re on WNYC with Jack Ciattarelli. Hello, Tim. 

[13:15] CALLER: Hello, yes. I’m from Parsippany, and he mentioned Parsippany — that we’re getting screwed on the taxes. That’s not really true. Actually, Parsippany Hills is one of the best schools, Mount Taber is one of the best schools. But the other issue, as far as funding, is Jack Ciattarelli opposed the millionaire’s tax. He says he wants to improve New Jersey Transit, which Murphy has been trying to do after Chris Christie almost destroyed it. Where are you going to get the money for that if you don’t support the millionaire’s tax? He opposed the increase in the gas tax. I think it’s time for people, the wealthy people in this state, to pay their fair share. And I think it’s also very important that we fund green transit and trains, which are three times more efficient, as far as greenhouse emissions than driving, that we actually improve that service and increase the service in order to deal with climate change.

[14:30] BL: Tim, let me get a response for you. You put a number of things on the table and Mr. Ciattarelli obviously, you can hear where he’s coming from. He’s not likely to vote for you, it doesn’t sound like. But his question is, I guess, centrally around the millionaire’s tax and the gasoline tax.

[14:49] JC: So, with all due respect to the caller, I never said there was anything wrong in the quality of education in the school districts that you mentioned. What I did say is that the way that the state is distributing state aid for schools is not fair. We need a flatter, more equitable distribution of state aid to schools. 

[15:10] BL: And on the millionaire’s tax and gasoline tax? 

[15:14] JC: We need a tax code that works for everybody in New Jersey. I don’t believe the current tax code, something I know a little bit about as a CPA, works for everybody in New Jersey. So I think New Jerseyans agree that we should have a tax code that works for everybody, not just a few. 

[15:30] BL: Which means what in terms of what millionaires pay now. Is it enough? Is it their fair share?

[15:38] JC: What I believe is we need a tax code that works for everybody. And right now we don’t have that New Jersey.

[15:44] BL: Does that mean…I’m just trying to get clarity on this. Does that mean you’re not taking a position right now on a millionaire’s tax increase?

[15:53] JC: What I believe in New Jersey is we need a tax code that works for all New Jerseyans. 

[15:58] BL: [Laughs] Okay. Natalie, in Raritan, you on WNYC with Jack Ciattarelli. Hello, Natalie. 

[16:06] CALLER: Hey, Brian, it’s actually Natale. 

[16:06] BL: I apologize. 

[16:09] CALLER: No worries. And hey, Jack. I’m also from Raritan, so just want to say, I appreciate the Raritan representation. Currently getting my master’s in public health at Rutgers, specifically in LGBTQ+ health. So I was wondering where your potential administration would stand on protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ New Jerseyans, and also where your administration would stand on helping address the HIV epidemic in New Jersey, I know we have the tools to address it and end the epidemic here. But there really hasn’t been much of a commitment, even from the Murphy administration, to actually end the epidemic here. So I’m wondering where you stand.

[16:51] JC: First of all let me congratulate you on your studies and thank you for calling in.  Listen, my job as Governor is to represent all 9 million citizens and that’s exactly what I intend to do. Knowing what their needs are, knowing what their interests are, knowing what we need to do better. And so, as I always say, as an elected official my first job is to listen. I will sit down with any and all groups, any and all advocacies to hear what their concerns are in regards to what we need to do better in NJ. So, you just raised a couple of issues that I’m looking forward to learning more about. Particularly in regards to our HIV-positive patients throughout the state. One thing I’ve heard often about this administration is they don’t sit down, with everyone, and when they do they don’t seem to listen or they make promises on which they won’t fulfill. So, I look forward to my administration being very responsive to the needs of every constituency and every advocacy throughout NJ. 

[17:54] BL: Is there any particular LGBTQ-oriented policy, since that’s what he raised, that you are proposing or any that are out there from advocated or Democrats that you specifically oppose? 

[18:10] JC: Members of the LGBT community are citizens of NJ and I will be responsive to all citizens of NJ.

[18:18] BL: But no specific proposal as of now.

[18:22] JC: I’ll be responsive to all citizens and address all their needs. 

[18:28] BL: Paul in JC, you’re on WNYC, w/ JC, hello Paul 

[18:32] CALLER: Hello thank you so much Brian for taking my call, I was very appreciative of your introduction and the candidate’s introduction in regards to his life experience and I’d be very interested to hear his definition of “white privilege.”

[18:53] BL: Mr. Ciattarelli? 

[18:55] JC: Yes Brian, what’s the next question?

[18:59] BL: Oh he asked, your definition of white privilege and if you didn’t hear the beginning of the call he said that he was interested in hearing —you know you talk about your middle class upbringing at the beginning of the segment and with your life experience, and your experience in politics, how would you define white privilege?

[19:19] JC: I don’t really understand the question, Brian. So either you’ll have to go further in explaining the basis of his question, or we can move on. 

[19:31] BL: Paul, want to take a shot at that? 

[19:34] CALLER: Sure, I’d be happy to. I’m actually not surprised that the candidate doesn’t understand the concept of white privilege because the sheer fact that he doesn’t realize that he has a privilege because of the color of his skin implies the dynamic of white privilege.

[19:57] BL: And that was a statement not a question, but would you agree that not understanding the meaning of white privilege and needing a caller to explain it to you reveals some kind of blind spot about racial inequality in New Jersey and in the US today?

[20:22] JC: Well, Brian, I tell you what, I’ll leave it up to your listeners to decide. It sounds like the person called in has a number of issues. 

[20:35] BL: Alright. What would be your biggest policy item intended to reduce racial inequality in New Jersey?

[20:46] JC: Brian, as governor, I will represent all 9 million citizens of this state. Wherever it is, whether they’re being marginalized or disadvantaged. That is, those are things that my administration will certainly address

[20:58] BL: But nothing specific on that. 

[21:01] JC: My job is we’ve got 9 million citizens in the state, Brian, they all have different needs. They all have different concerns. My job is to represent each and every one of them.

[21:11] BL: We’re about out of time. Do you want to make a closing statement? Take a minute, a minute, and a half. Say whatever you want.

[21:18] JC: No, Brian, I appreciate this opportunity with you and your listening audience and I look forward to next time.

[21:24] BL: Jack Ciattarelli, the Republican nominee for governor in New Jersey. Thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate it.