Response to Candidate Questionnaire by Fred Profeta
Response by Candidate for Maplewood Township Committee:
to South Mountain Peace Action Candidate Questionnaire
Question #1 Over the past two years, federal spending on the war and occupation of Iraq has cost South Orange and Maplewood taxpayers an estimated $62.5 million. The cost to South Orange has been about $27.6 million, the cost to Maplewood, about $34.9 million. Given local tax burdens and shortfalls in state and federal assistance, should a Trustee or Township Committee member address this issue with constituents and with our Congressional delegation and President? How would you do this?
REPLY BY FRED PROFETA:
I opposed the war in Iraq before hostilities began. I made that clear when Peace Action appeared before the township committee in 2003. My opposition to the war and occupation is unchanging, and I have signed a Peace Action petition affirming that view. My "Be about Peace" sign still stands on our front lawn, even though it has been torn down twice. (I bought extras.)
I have been a student of constitutional law since law school, receiving a master's degree with this concentration. As I stated in 2003 from my seat in town hall, my views as to the proper constitutional role of municipal government did not allow me, in good faith, to vote for the Peace Action resolution as a governmental official. I felt that to do so would compromise protection for minority rights. I hope I make a better explanation here than I may have that night in town hall.
The constitutional power to make war in vested in Congress. This power has always been somewhat usurped by the Presidency, but this abuse has reached its high point at the present time. However, in either case, the Congress or the President properly make their decisions only with due concern for the will of the people. Under our constitutional scheme, we have redundant governmental systems, State and Federal. Each derives its just power directly from the people. In the Federal system, the interests of the people in each state are represented by Congresspersons and Senators, not by Governors, state legislatures, or municipal officials. And that is why Senators and Congresspersons are directly elected by the people, not by Governors, state legislators, or municipal governing bodies.
If Federal institutions were to respond to the petitions of State institutions, they would necessarily be non-responsive to the minority views under the jurisdiction of those State institutions. The views expressed by these petitions never reflect a unanimous public sentiment - there is always a minority view in the community not represented by the votes of local officials, state legislators, or state executives. So, for example, in 2003, there was a local view of the looming war not represented by the resolution adopted by the township committee.
It is for this reason that I do not believe in petitions from State institutions to Federal institutions as a proper vehicle to express the will of the people in a true democracy. Such petitions do not reflect minority views, and thus water down the rights of the minority. When the minority in question is composed of right wing militarists, we are not likely to much regret the result. But champions of minority rights have long known that the next abused minority might be a progressive one. That is why the ACLU always supports the right of fascists to demonstrate and make known their views.
Thus, in my opinion, my proper role as a member of the township committee and mayor is to individually and directly petition our elected Federal officials. To do otherwise would be to enhance the voices of right wing towns, and right wing states, who will deliver petitions that pay no heed to progressive minority views. Our constitution protects against this abuse by guaranteeing both State and Federal systems, each responding directly to the petitions of the people.
As good Democrats, we all have our favorite progressive causes. Vic DeLuca may well have marched more for peace than I have. But I will compare my support of civil rights to anyone in this community. I founded and served as the first Chair of the Community Coalition on Race. Since the 1980's in this town, I have fought for minority rights. The mission of the Coalition is to preserve stable racial integration and assure that there is equal participation by persons of color in the civic life of our community. I have always supported the programs and funding requests of the Coalition. I have attended almost every Board meeting of the Coalition since its inception in 1996.
Many are aware of my role (and that of Ian Grodman) in celebrating the effective date of the Domestic Partnership Act on July 10 of last year. We made it an event with worldwide media coverage, thus showcasing Maplewood's reputation as a welcoming town for all. During my tenure, Maplewood was the first municipality in the State to authorize domestic partnership benefits for township employees. About the same time, Maplewood signed on to the legal brief submitted of behalf of gay couples seeking rights accorded to married persons.
My dedication to the environment is also a guiding principle of my life. I belong to the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, the National Resources Defense Council, and many other environmental groups. Back in the 1970's, I assisted my wife, Susan, in the establishment of a private recycling program for Maplewood called Environaction. On the township committee, I have been working closely with our Environmental Advisory Committee to perform a municipal greenhouse gas inventory (required many years ago as a condition of the grant which brought us our first jitney). Most recently, I have worked hard with Ken Pettis and Kathy Leventhal to ensure that our new police building on Springfield Avenue incorporates as many "green" features as possible.
I abhor war. I am a supporter of Peace Action, and greatly admire the dedicated activism of Paul Surovell. It is because of this that I led the effort of the township committee to proclaim our appreciation of his life's work on behalf of peace. And I will continue to do that with my actions and statements.
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Question #2 In this era of Homeland Security and the Patriot Act, do you think a Trustee or Township Committee member has a responsibility to protect First Amendment and privacy rights of our residents, as well as to assure a safe and secure environment? How would you do this?
REPLY BY FRED PROFETA:
As an elected official, I am sworn to uphold the constitutions of the New Jersey and the Federal government. And in support of this oath, I will be vigilant in detecting any incursion against our civil liberties, no matter under what legal guise the incursion proceeds. But this question goes on to ask how we can balance that constitutional imperative against the need to be safe and secure, especially in a time of international terrorism.
I think that we can effectively serve both interests simultaneously. Although municipal government does not play a significant role in this, I believe that the Federal and State governments can increase security in ways that do not threaten civil rights. For example, we need to increase monitoring of our sea ports and airports. Ship containers and plane baggage needs to be subjected to greater scanning. This is not being done under the Bush administration, especially in New Jersey. Senators Schumer and Clinton are spearheading the effort to increase this monitoring, and none of their initiatives are antithetical to privacy rights.
But Maplewood must be on guard against unconstitutional requests by the Republican Federal government. We are not in a position to categorically refuse these requests. But we can safeguard our rights and protect our staff from Federal reprisals by standing ready to consider legal action when our constitution is threatened. Injunctive relief can protect us. And we could undoubtedly partner with like-minded towns and share the costs.
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Question #3 How do you see your role as a Trustee or Township Committee member with regard to activities in the community which seek peaceful alternatives to war, such as those organized by South Mountain Peace Action?
REPLY BY FRED PROFETA:
My role with respect to activities which seek peaceful alternatives to war is to support those activities, and assure that that there are always forums and venues available for the expression of these views. But the success of these activities will not be determined by their expression and acceptance in Maplewood. What is paramount is that we turn the tide against the surging Republican party, and bring Democratic values back into dominance. It will only be then that there are people in power who can do something about carrying out the ideals of SMPA and like-minded groups.
I do not believe that the present strategy of the Democratic party is working, or is likely to work. What has tilted the political center of gravity in this country against the Democrats has been the ability of the Republicans to identify themselves with the cultural and religious values of much of the nation. Democrats ignore these values at their peril. And, in my view, there is no good reason for that. For example, there is more than enough support in the dominant religious traditions of this country to supply a theological rationale for peace activism. We need more of an effort in establishing this linkage. The environmentalists are hard at work in an attempt to show that God's creation deserves protection. So too do God's people. The environmentalists are succeeding. The peace activists can also.
Unfortunately, the abuses of the religious right are a deterrent to the kind of cooperative efforts that are required. But those who are interested in doing more than marching and petitioning must understand how moral agendas will ultimately be implemented. Senator Clinton understands this reality, and she has the religious training take advantage of it. She is leading the way, and progressives should not shy from making common cause with people of faith.
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Question #4 Please discuss any additional ways that you believe the issues of war, military spending and national security impact our communities, and how you believe a Trustee or Township Committee member should address them.
REPLY BY FRED PROFETA
Apart from the financial impacts well documented by SMPA, issues of war impact our community by taking an emotional and spiritual toll. We cannot witness the carnage in Iraq, for example, without wondering about the worth of our species and the meaning of our existence. We also worry about terroristic revenge from those aggrieved by our military might.
Emotional disease increases in time of war. We feel insecure, and powerless in the face of an evil we know not how to reign in. How many people turn away from their faith in time of war? How many people turn to therapists instead? What is the financial cost and personal toll of all of this? It is not quantified, but the effect is undoubtedly more devastating than the increase in our tax burden.
Members of the township committee have a bully pulpit. They should use this to speak out against injustices which ravage our citizenry. It is important to appear at events, speak at rallies, and try to influence public opinion in ways that advance just causes. That is the duty of every local elected official.