Longtime New Brunswick political figure sets sights on governor’s seat
By JARED KALTWASSER
David Meiswinkle’s first political campaign was in the seventh grade, when he successfully lobbied his middle school basketball teammates to attend an end-of-season professional basketball game, instead of the pro hockey game the eighth-grade players wanted.
"We had to lobby and play politics with the sixth-graders. They were afraid the eighth-graders were going to beat them up,” Meiswinkle said. "So we voted and we won … so we go to the basketball game. It was in Hershey, Pa. It was the night Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points. I was there.”
If Meiswinkle, 59, is successful in his latest political foray it will be equally historic.
Meiswinkle, an attorney, public defender and longtime political figure in the city, has launched a longshot independent bid for the governor’s office, running on a platform of middle-class empowerment.
"The middle class don’t really have representatives because these two parties are controlled at the highest level by finance,” he said. "They’re not representing the average person.”
Meiswinkle moved to New Jersey from Pennsylvania at the age of 14. He attended Rutgers College, where he started the Davidson Reconstruction Committee, a group of students advocating for better conditions at the Davidson residence hall, and was elected student body president, during which time he successfully worked to make Rutgers College coeducational.
After obtaining a master’s degree from New York University and spending two years in the Army, he worked as the coordinator of handicapped affairs at Rutgers, setting up the first transportation system for handicapped students.
In 1978, he joined the New Brunswick Police Department. Meiswinkle said a turning point in his life came in 1981, when he publicly accused police detectives of covering up a shooting and fire at an apartment in the city. Meiswinkle said he nearly lost his job over the matter, but he prevailed in a termination hearing, and he says the two detectives involved in the alleged cover-up were reprimanded.
Meiswinkle claims the two detectives tried to cover up the incident because the two suspects were politically connected. The mayor at that time was John Lynch.
"So when I saw what they were about, I said this is enough, I’ve got my cause now,” Meiswinkle said. "So these guys are the bad guys, so I challenge Lynch.”
Meiswinkle ran unsuccessfully against Lynch in 1982, 1986 and 1990. He also lost a bid for City Council in 1984. Meiswinkle found more success, however, publishing an independent weekly newspaper, which he used to investigate Lynch and others at City Hall.
"He (Meiswinkle) knew a lot of what was going on there… and he was able to really pinpoint it and zero in on it,” said Albert Valeri, a campaign volunteer for Meiswinkle during the 1980s. ""And he kept us in line from just getting soured on the system.”
Lynch pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges in 2006 and was sentenced to 39 months in federal prison. Meiswinkle believes former U.S. Attorney and current Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie let Lynch off too easy.
"They treated him with kid gloves, it was a gentleman’s agreement,” Meiswinkle said. "Christie didn’t do the job on that, he only did part of it. He (Christie) didn’t do anything to attack the system he (Lynch) created. It’ll be there when he gets back. It’s still in place.”
The Christie campaign did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
"I admire his dedication and his courage at great personal risk,” said Michael Cote, a friend and the editor-in-chief of Meiswinkle’s newspaper, the New Brunswick Reporter. ""I believe he is driven by a sincere desire to change the world for the better, and his political ambitions are not driven by greed, but it comes from a moral base.”
As governor, Meiswinkle said he would use direct democracy to empower the people. He wants to use voter initiatives and referenda to bypass the Legislature when it won’t pass laws the people want, or to repeal bad laws the legislature passes. Meiswinkle also believes in voter recalls to yank ineffective politicians from office.
"You have direct democracy and you have Main Street running things…” Meiswinkle said. ""Wall Street is running things into the ground. We want Main Street, and when I say Main Street, I’m talking about middle class, small businesses, small farms.”
Meiswinkle opposes trade agreements such as NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and GATT (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), which he says have resulted in a loss of American jobs.
Meiswinkle wants to restore jobs in the manufacturing and technology sectors by embracing green technology and also setting up a division of government designed to encourage innovation by connecting those with good ideas to universities or corporations that can make those ideas into realities.
Meiswinkle said he believes many of the politicians in power are corrupt and in government for the wrong reasons.
"We’ve become alienated from our government, so we speak bad about it. We should speak bad about it,” Meiswinkle said. "What are we going to do about it? We’re going to take it back. We’re going to make it our government.”
Meiswinkle acknowledges that he has a long way to go before he can be in serious contention for the governor’s office. But he said he plans a vigorous campaign, which he believes may result in a larger movement that lasts beyond the campaign.
"I feel that I’m compelled because I’ve got a message and I think I represent the sentiments of a lot of people,” he said. ""Lots of times people can’t express what their deep down feelings really are. I think I can touch that.”
Jared Kaltwasser: 732-565-7263; jkaltwasser@MyCentralJersey.com