Newark clergy stands by Menendez in U.S. Senate race despite ethics issues

Reverend Dr. David Jefferson, Sr., Esq. (left), pastor of the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark, said that U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (right) should be elected to stop President Donald Trump.

NEWARK, NJ - U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez came to Newark to get what he needs in an unexpectedly close reelection battle - prayer, provided by clergy members who will drum up critical urban votes despite the senator's recent ethics issues. 

"One thing that I love about this man is that he understands that this is not about him. It's about the decisions he makes that serve the people we see every Sunday morning," said the Reverend Dr. David Jefferson, Sr., Esq., pastor of the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark, who hosted more than 50 clergy members who came out to support Menendez. "We need someone to paralyze the hand of Donald Trump." 

The Newark clergy rally comes as Menendez is locked in close electoral combat with Republican challenger Bob Hugin in the Nov. 6 election. Some recent polls have shown the gap between Menendez and Hugin to be a statistical dead heat, while others have shown the incumbent ahead by a wider six to ten-point margin.

The Senate race should have been an all-but guaranteed victory for the Democrat in a typically Blue State that last elected a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 1972 and where President Trump's approval ratings are in the low 30s.

But this year, Menendez, who has been a senator since 2006, is fighting a well-funded candidate who has made the senator's ethical issues a dominant theme in the campaign, with a barrage of negative ads that call the senator an "embarrassment."

Menendez survived a federal indictment for bribery and other corruption charges when his trial ended in a hung jury last year. The Senate Ethics Committee later “severely admonished” the veteran Hudson County politician after they determined he had improperly accepted gifts from a South Florida donor, and then advocated for the donor's personal and business interests.

Menendez has fought back by claiming that Hugin, the former head of Celgene, a New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company, has inflated drug costs for cancer patients and supports Trump.

Before the clergy crowd in Newark, Menendez claimed to hold the moral high ground over Hugin on a range of issues, attributing his rival to Trump's attacks on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to what he called the president's "racist rhetoric." 

"America is in the midst of a great moral question about what kind of country it wants to be. Bob Hugin is not a different type of Republican. He is a Trump Republican," Menendez said. "These faith leaders know who I am, and they know what I stand for." 

Other clergy and politicians alike echoed Menendez, connecting Hugin to Trump.

"Under the current GOP leadership, it doesn't look like we'll get to keep pre-existing conditions," said Ali Sawab, a Muslim imam, and a Republican, from Newark's South Ward. The Trump administration argued in a recently filed court brief that the ACA's protections for pre-existing conditions should be ruled unconstitutional. "Senator Menendez came out to our community. We need to give him bipartisan support." 

"Senator Menendez must go back," said Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. "We need as much ammunition as we can get against these demons that are down there in Washington." 

Other clergy defended their support of Menendez despite the ethical demons that have recently chased him. 

"Regardless of what people say about morals and values and ethics, I wouldn't even play that kind of game if I was the senator. I preach the gospel of forgiveness. Everyone has sins," said the Rev. Ronald Slaughter, the pastor of St. James AME Church in Newark. "We need someone to stop all of this madness that Trump is perpetrating in Washington, D.C." 

Just before the assembled clergy raised their hands in prayer over Menendez, Jefferson reminded those present of the traditional role African-American clergy has played in getting out the vote in urban areas. 

"Faith is belief in action. And if we believe in our senator, then we are going to get our people to the polls strong," Jefferson said. "Senator, we'll get you in."

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