After millions of New Jersey residents spent most of last week without power, gas, and even lost their homes, Tuesday’s general election was likely the farthest from their minds. But for politicians who have continued to campaign through the storm, the election has remained a focus.
“It’s been a very, very difficult procedure because of the storm,” Essex County Freeholder Vice President Patricia Sebold said.
Sebold is the Democratic chairwoman in Livingston and has helped local candidates with their own races. She said her candidates have struggled to reach voters as power outages have stopped their printer, in Irvington, from producing mailers.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this ever, in all my years of being involved in politics,” Sebold said.
Democratic Bergen County Freeholder David Ganz said the storm will have a “significant impact” on voter turnout, as polling places throughout the county were changed and some voters may be unaware of where they are expected to go.
As many residents throughout the county and state attempt to return to normalcy, particularly in badly hit areas like Moonachie, Ganz said voting may be a thought far from New Jersey voters’ minds.
Candidates in state races have also been impacted by the storm. From waiting hours at the gas pumps to keeping cell phones charged to reach supporters, Republican State Sen. Joe Kyrillos (D-13), who’s contesting U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, has been torn between his current duties and representing his constituency.
“It’s an incredibly awkward moment in time for the political process,” Kyrillos said from the campaign trail. “Many people have been displaced, have had their lives ruined or even lost because of this. Our first priority has been to make sure the constituency gets what it needs.”
Kyrillos said that while he’s been visiting displaced residents from Paramus to Wyckoff and Wayne throughout the week, he’s “been mindful of the campaign.”
“We’re going to help rebuild New Jersey,” Kyrillos said. “And I think the residents know what’s at stake Tuesday.”
For Democratic Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, who’s vying for a U.S. Congressional seat in the 17th legislative district, the last week of reaching potential voters has been “a challenge,” according to campaign manager Joey Novick.
Many of Chivukula’s campaign members had worked out of their homes or the assemblyman’s residence as the group’s headquarters was powerless, Novick said. But the impact that the campaign felt was nothing compared to the state at large, Novick said, pointing to the blurring of political lines he’d seen in the past week.
“When the president got off the plane here and walked hand in hand with Gov. Christie it was just great to see them working together so well. Sometimes it takes an event like this to remember what’s truly important,” Novick said.
Ganz also felt inspired by the president’s visit and said it may impact voters’ decisions.
“I think there’s a strong recognition of the fact that the president and governor found common ground and instead of finding ways to beat up on each other, they each found the necessity of helping others,” he said.
On a local level, town council and board of education candidates have struggled to campaign over the past week. John Krickus, the former mayor of Washington Township, is vying for a seat on the Morris County Board of Freeholders. His home, however, has been without power since the night Sandy hit.
“My focus is entirely on the recovery right now,” Krickus said. “The best we can do right now is just remind people to vote.”
Gervonn Rice, Teaneck Board of Education vice president who is running for re-election, said she and her runningmates visited voters as they waited in line for gas, handing out flyers and talking about their races. She is running for her third three-year term and said this election season has been one of the most difficult, not only for her but for voters as well.
“Many of us have been without power, without heat and in the meantime, still trying to campaign,” she said.
Some candidates have had to make campaign concessions. Democrat Rich Dellaripa is running for a seat on the Bloomingdale Council in a hotly contested race in Passaic County. He said signage became a concern before the storm made landfall last Monday.
“We took all of our large election signs down due to concerns that the wind would make them highly dangerous,” he said. “We had to bunch together the mailing of our flyers as they were stuck in a shipping facility for days.”
Dellaripa said he and his runningmate also suspended neighborhood canvassing for days “as we didn’t want to interrupt anyone who had more pressing needs due to the superstorm.”
While he does not think it will have a profound effect on the election, Dellaripa said it was disappointing to have to alter plans so close to the election.
Krickus said he’s been trying to help neighbors in his same situation, all the while just hoping some sense of normalcy returns. He admitted he cannot tell what impact the destruction will have on voter turnout.
“It’s completely unknowable right now,” the Republican candidate said. “Hopefully we’re in a better position when the day comes.”
Kyrillos echoed those sentiments, believing the final weekend before the election would be the time many potential voters began focusing on ballots.
“We’re seeing a 9/11 spirit of cooperation with people helping each other in New Jersey,” Kyrillos said. “With that comes much pride and may bring the voters out Tuesday.”
In her own community, Rice said that with limited resources, she has had to step up her campaigning efforts to ensure election information is out there, even though Teaneck consists of a relatively informed population, she said. But Rice hoped to remind voters that despite the hardships they may be enduring as a result of the storm, voting remains an important right and privilege of the American people.
“You may be without power, but you’re not powerless,” she said. “So please exercise your right to vote.”