As the June 3 state primary approaches, all eyes are on New Jersey’s First Congressional District, in the south part of the state. Last December Mahdi Ibn-Ziyad, a peace activist, declared his candidacy to run against the incumbent, Democratic Rep. Rob Andrews. Andrews, who has served for 18 years, is a long time supporter of the Iraq war and occupation.
Ibn-Ziyad, a high school social studies teacher in Camden, also teaches philosophy at Rutgers University there. A Vietnam veteran, he has worked with United for Peace and Justice in the area for several years. He is also active in his community and in his union.
Identifying himself as “a progressive Democrat,” Ibn-Ziyad says he is concerned with immediately ending the war, promoting universal health care, cleaning up environmental toxic wastes, dealing with economic justice problems and extending full benefits to veterans. His priorities also include a pro-union stance for organized labor, reinforcing civil rights for all people, establishing fair trade policies and replacing the No Child Left Behind Act with an education policy that supports full funding and is fair to students, parents and teachers. His grassroots campaign wants to focus on issues affecting the First District.
But in February everything changed when Andrews announced he would challenge U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) in the primary. Andrews said his wife, Camille Andrews, would replace him on the primary ballot but promises to step aside in the November general election so Democratic Party leaders can run their chosen candidate.
Ibn-Ziyad told a press conference that such a process would disenfranchise Democratic primary voters. “I am an ardent supporter of an open, fair and transparent election process in the First District,” he said. “I am shocked and saddened by the fact that the South Jersey Democratic Party machine seems to be more interested in perpetuating its power than in allowing voters to fairly choose a qualified candidate in the June 3 primary.”
John Caramanna, a young public relations worker, will also be on the ballot. Another Democratic candidate dropped out.
In a televised interview last week, Ibn-Ziyad called on Caramanna and Camille Andrews to join him in a forum to discuss the issues.
New Jersey’s First Congressional District is composed of 51 municipalities in Burlington, Gloucester and Camden counties, including the city of Camden.
The district’s population of more than a million residents is very diverse. Incomes vary from Voorhees, where the median is $68,000, to Camden, where a third of the population lives below the poverty line. African Americans are about 11 percent of the population in the three counties, but compose 53 percent of Camden’s population. Latinos are less than 4 percent in the three counties, but 40 percent in Camden. Unemployment and home foreclosures are rising in the district.
Once a manufacturing center, Camden’s unemployment has been at crisis levels for two decades, and its crime rate has soared as the illegal drug trade increased.
Ibn-Ziyad believes his city of Camden can flourish again if a progressive Congress is elected in November. He wants to be part of that change.