Neighbors Helping Neighbors, a local support and job search networking group for the unemployed, isn’t partisan, and the event it’s hosting Monday, Oct. 21 won’t be, either.
Bergen County freeholder and state senate candidates of both parties have been invited to the forum, which will focus on the issues that matter most to organization founder John Fugazzie’s constituents – the long-term unemployed who face new challenges in reentering the workforce due to a stagnant and rapidly changing economy.
The gubernatorial candidates have also been invited. Fugazzie said Democrat Barbara Buono has agreed to participate, but her campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“The politically charged issues can’t be delivered by individuals who are out of work,” Fugazzie said. “One of my visions is for the organization to take front and center in fighting for job seekers.”
Despite some requests, Neighbors Helping Neighbors has endorsed neither Democrats nor Republicans, and invited both to the meet and greet. The partisanship at all levels of government, epitomized by the federal budget standstill in Washington, is the sticking point for Fugazzie.
In an often deeply partisan and contentious political atmosphere, he says, where stalled growth in employment sometimes makes jobs a touchy subject for candidates, the issues affecting New Jersey’s unemployed too often get crowded out by divisive social issues.
“Clearly we’re not doing something that should be done, and it’s going to require buy-in from both sides,” Fugazzie said. At the forum, he said, “We don’t want to hear about gun control, all these other issues. We want to hear about jobs.”
The unemployment rate in New Jersey remains at a high 8.6 percent, its performance ranking near the bottom nationally at 43rd among states. Fugazzie estimates that, accounting for those settling for part-time jobs and the unemployed who have dropped out of the search entirely, the rate could be double the official number.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors will seek to hold the candidates to answers on their plans for addressing the stagnant job growth, without drifting into partisan rhetoric or away from the economy.
All will be asked the same questions, which have yet to be determined. Fugazzie hopes that getting candidates in the same room as the members of his group, who each have experienced personal challenges in navigating the post-crisis economy, will give members a political voice that job seekers can struggle to find.
“The goal is to raise the conversation about jobs,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to at least put our agenda on the table.”
The meet and greet will be held Monday, Oct. 21 at 6:45 p.m. at the Ridgewood Elks
Lodge, 111 N. Maple Avenue. Priority seating will be reserved for members of the group, but other members of the public can register here.