Hot topics | Coronavirus pandemic

Murphy, Ciattarelli, and Ciatarella tumultuous debate over COVID masks, school funding, abortion, white privilege, in another heated N.J. Gov. debate

Murphy, Ciattarelli, and Ciatarella tumultuous debate over COVID masks, school funding, abortion, white privilege, in another heated N.J. Gov. debate

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli on Tuesday night exchanged bitter exchanges over COVID-19 vaccines and mask policies, school funding, and white privilege, while also finding common ground on abortion.

The hour-long event at Rowan University in Glassboro was nearly as feisty as the races first debate, with the candidates cutting each other with sharp retorts and the audience frequently butting in with applause, boos, and shouts.

Murphy, who is seeking a second term, continues to lead Ciattarelli, formerly reelection opponent, in public opinion polls, though the margin has dwindled as the Nov. 2 election approaches.

On Tuesday, both candidates presented starkly different visions for New Jerseys future, starting with policies for how the state should deal with the lingering coronavirus epidemic.

Ciattarelli insisted he personally encourages people to get vaccinated against the virus, though stating a one-size-fits-all approach doesnt work.

I believe that my job as governor when elected is to provide people with all the information they need to make an informed decision. At the start of the debate, which was co-sponsored by NJ PBS, WNYC, and Rowan University, he said, "And then the choice is theirs."

Murphy argued Ciattarelli's COVID-19 policies would put lives needlessly at risk.

This feels like a debate in Texas or Florida, the governor said.

Murphy was also critical of recent revelations that the governor and other attendees did not wear masks at an Indoor Ball hosted by Garden State Equality in Asbury Park this weekend. Ciattarelli also blasted Murphy for not wearing mask at the ball.

To be admitted, attendees were required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. However, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Monmouth County currently has high rates of coronavirus transmission, and masking is recommended in such a setting.

While Murphy has lifted state mask regulations, he has urged people to wear masks in settings of high risk. Republicans have accused the governor of being hypocritical for not wearing a mask at the event, when children are required to wear masks in school and daycare.

I do believe our leadership must be consistent in times such as these," Ciattarelli stated.

Murphy claimed he did not wear a mask because if addressing on stage, 'he was not wearing. He added that he often takes off his mask on stage at public events, such as his COVID-19 briefings.

Are you wearing a mask right now? Murphy said to Ciattarelli, "Were on stage."

Ciattarelli responded, He was at a large indoor gathering. Nobody had a mask on.

Murphy replied, Nice try,.

The governor was also asked why he hasn't kept his promise for a review of how COVID-19 was handled in the state's nursing homes and long-term care facilities, where more than 8,500 people have died.

Were still in the middle of a pandemic, Murphy said. There will be a full accounting, without question, independent of my office, on this, he added.

Another heated argument centered on the state budget. Ciattarelli has criticized Murphy for spending $11 billion in state funds over the last four years. And Ciattarelli has pledged to reduce $10 billion in spending and reduce property taxes by reorganizing the state school funding formula.

Ciattarelli however, in no particular detail, stated that hed work with the state Legislature to figure out what programs.

We'll all sit down together, tighten the belt, and look for areas to cut, he added. I will tell you that state government is overworked, inefficient, and corrupte by special interests, he said.

Murphy touted how his administration has increased funding for public schools and made a $6.4 billion payment to the state's traditionally underfunded public-worker pension system. He blamed Ciattarelli and previous legislators for not providing enough money in the past.

Murphy explained, "We inherited a complete and total mess, and you were there for six years before I was."

Ciattarelli responded, The budget is up $11 billion. People dont want a handout, they want one.

Murphy said, That is offensive. Thats another example of forward-backward. A handout? Come on, man.

Ciattarelli defended his school funding plans against criticism that it would cut court-mandated funding to poorer districts, saying the owner of a million-dollar home in Jersey City is paying less in property taxes than someone who owns resale rights to 400,000 dollars.

Thats not fair, he added. We need a more flatter, more equitable distribution of aid.

Murphy said that would hurt poorer students, especially in communities of color, because it would be worse for them.

If youre a Black or brown person or if you're an African or black or white kid out there, you may get the rug pulled out from under you, the governor said. This is a us versus them move, she added.

The next governor will also have the chance to appoint four new judges to the state Supreme Court. Ciattarelli suggested he would nominate justices willing to re-examine school funding and the Mount Laurel decision, which requires towns in New Jersey to construct affordable housing.

I am looking for people who are going to bring balance to the court, he said.

Murphy continued his attempt to suggest Ciattarelli is a fan of former President Donald Trump, who will take New Jersey backwards.

Ciattarelli rebutted by saying Murphy is prone to blame Donald Trump or former Gov. Chris Christie both Republicans -- for problems in the state.

I promise you: When I take office in January, I will not blame the Murphy administration for anything, Ciattarelli said. Well get the job done, says the business manager.

Ciattarelli, who has been criticized for straying right after a relatively moderate tenure in the state Legislature, was also asked why he has backed Trump despite calling him a charlatan in 2015. Ciattarelli pushed back, beginning with a joke.

In 27 years of marriage, I want you to know Melindas called me worse than a charlatan albeit fewer times, he said, referring to his wife.

Ciattarelli continued, saying that once Trump was elected, he wanted him to succeed and that its un-American not to root for the president to be successful.

Ciattatelli also praised Trump for his handling of the economy, border security, being tough with China, and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which halted decades of American policy. He said he disagrees with Trump on offshore drilling, funding for the Gateway Tunnel project, and ending state and local property taxes deductions over $10,000.

But Ciattarelli didnt say whether he would back Trump if He launched a second White House bid in 2024. And he wouldnt say whether if Trump offered to stump for him or sway him.

I go out there and campaign on my own, Ciattarelli stated.

Ciattarelli took a noticeably calm tone to the topic of abortion Tuesday.

Murphy believes that should alarm women in New Jersey and around the country since the US Supreme Court all but made abortion illegal in Texas after it declined to hear a case that made its way up through the legal system. The governor has said that the state Legislature should act now to pass the Reproductive Freedom Act in New Jersey, which would incorporate the rights into state law.

This has gone from something that I think people thought was abstract and theoretical to here and present danger, Murphy said.

Ciattarelli has said that women should have a choice, though he supports imposing maternity leave after 20 weeks. He also said he doubts the Supreme Court will overturn Roe vs. Wade, which gives women the right to an abortion in the United States.

But he said if the decision is overturned, a state law would be necessary to safeguard Roe vs. Wade in New Jersey.

If thats what we need to do here in New Jersey to protect a woman s freedom to choose, well do that, Ciattarelli stated.

Murphy said he would be very happy if Ciattartelli is right about Roe v. Wade.

But Im not expecting that, frankly, with the Trump-packed Supreme Court, the governor said.

Murphy sneered at his opponent in another incident over a recent interview radio interview in which Ciattarelli refused to answer 'white privilege' question from.

Murphy said, Were the most diverse state in America, and if you dont know how to answer the question, its hard to believe that you can govern the area."

Ciattarelli was given another chance to define white privilege by a moderator Tuesday, allowing him to speak out on the topic.

Have whites had access to things that people of color haven't? Yes, thats a sad fact, Ciattarelli said. Has the Black race been disadvantaged and marginalized? Yes, thats a sad fact. We must address it."

And I believe that Im addressing it by going into the Black communities with the plan I put forth on my website, he added. Its very specific in terms of economic development, access to health care, tackling the food desert problem, and working with faith-based organizations, she added.

Murphy responded, White privilege is real. The legacy of slavery is not a historical element. Lets not debate whether it exists, let s accept it, unfortunately, and let a blunder take place. Were the most diverse state in America, and youve got to get that.

As for the raucous crowd, who cares? Murphy seemed to be bothered at times.

A debate has broken out at a hockey game, the governor stated at one point.

Murphy was jeered as he delivered his closing statement, with Ciattarelli supporters also jeering Murphy.

The audience was rowdy, Ciattarelli told reporters after the event. We applaud their enthusiasm, but it made it more difficult. I got my point across, but the whole process was a little bumpy.

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Brent Johnson can be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @johnsb01. Follow his on twitter at johnb1 on @JohnsB01.

Matt Arco may be reached at marco@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MatthewArco.

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