Race to watch: N.J. 8th Congressional District contest overshadowed by Menendez corruption trial

Rob Menendez, the Democratic incumbent, is competing for the seat against Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla and businessman Kyle Jasey.

Robert Menendez speaks at a desk

Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., speaks during a House Transportation subcommittee hearing on Amtrak on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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New Jersey’s primary election takes place on Tuesday, June 4.

In the 8th Congressional District, Democratic incumbent Rob Menendez faces challengers Ravi Bhalla, Hoboken’s mayor, and businessman Kyle Jasey. The district includes parts of Essex, Hudson and Union counties.

The race is being overshadowed by a trial featuring Menendez’s father, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez. The senator is facing numerous charges, including conspiracy to obstruct justice and commit bribery for allegedly accepting bribes, including cash, gold bars and a luxury car, to assist a foreign government and block a federal case against a co-defendant.

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Rob Menendez
U.S. Congressman Rob Menendez (Courtesy Office of U.S. Congressman Rob Menendez)

Incumbent Rob Menendez

Born and raised in Hudson County, Robert Menendez was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2022. His platform is strengthening families and serving the community. On his website, Menendez said he’s working to address the pressures families face because of the increasing costs of housing, energy and food. He introduced the Working Families Task Force Act and is co-sponsoring the Raise the Wage Act of 2023, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $17 an hour by 2027.

Menendez said he also supports the investment in capital improvement projects to build affordable housing with mass transit access.

Additionally, he wants to expand access to affordable health care by lowering prescription drug prices, supporting community health centers and strengthening protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions.

Ravi Bhalla
Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla (Courtesy candidate Facebook page)

Democrat Ravi Bhalla

Opposing Menendez is Ravi Bhalla, the mayor of Hoboken, born and raised in New Jersey after his parents moved from India.

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His website states Bhalla has dedicated his life to advocating for justice, battling discrimination and ensuring every New Jersey resident can pursue the American dream. As mayor of Hoboken, Bhalla said he’s worked to ensure that all who live or work in the community are treated fairly and that the most vulnerable residents are protected. He signed an ordinance establishing living wages for all building service workers and protections against displacement at any building that receives city subsidies.

He noted he has been a strong champion of organized labor and that, if elected to Congress, he will fight to pass the Protect the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act,  to protect the right to form or join a union and ensure workers enjoy decent jobs, wages, benefits and working conditions. He said he would fight to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, create millions of living-wage union jobs, make the expanded child tax credit permanent, expand Social Security benefits for all and close the carried interest loophole so that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of taxes.

As a father of two, Bhalla said he’s experienced the child care crisis first-hand and will make addressing it one of his top priorities. Bhalla said he will fight to pass universal background checks when purchasing firearms, banning assault weapons and support the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to keep guns out of the hands of those who may harm themselves or others.

Kyle Jasey
Businessman Kyle Jasey (Courtesy candidate Facebook page)

Democrat Kyle Jasey

Also in the race is Kyle Jasey, the CEO of Jasey Capital Group.

He was born and raised in New Jersey after his maternal grandfather’s family immigrated from Jamaica.

As a child, Jasey said he loved animals and “probably had more pets than anyone you’ve ever met.” He enjoyed fishing, exploring in the woods and playing sports.

Jasey was hospitalized with long COVID and now believes low-cost or free health care for all Americans should be a top priority. He supports access to safe and legal abortions; he said on his website that every individual deserves the autonomy to make informed decisions about their reproductive health.

Another top priority for Jasey is revitalizing education, and he stressed the importance of investing in public schools. He also supports efforts to ensure prisons equip inmates with the skills and knowledge necessary for successful reintegration into society. Jasey said effective rehabilitation and education in prisons are key to reducing high recidivism rates, which ultimately lead to inflated prison populations and escalating crime rates.

His mother, Mila Jasey, is a New Jersey assemblywoman.

Anthony Valdes
Anthony Valdes (Courtesy candidate Facebook page)

The lone Republican, Anthony Valdes

In the Republican primary, Anthony Valdes is running unopposed.

A longtime resident of West New York, New Jersey, Valdes has described himself as a “public servant.” In a letter to the editor of the Hudson County View, Valdes said inflation is a major issue and noted the U.S. is now embroiled in international conflicts. He also expressed concern that the southern U.S. border “remains wide open and completely unsecured.”

A profession for Valdes was not immediately available, and he does not appear to have a campaign website. WHYY News reached out for more information.

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