BY TOM HESTER SR.
The New Jersey Sierra Club announced Monday that it has endorsed Independent candidate Chris Daggett for governor over incumbent Democrat Gov. Jon Corzine and Republican Chris Christie.
The endorsement of the former state environmental protection commissioner and federal regional environmental protection administrator marks the first time in the organization's history that it is backing an independent.
"By endorsing Chris Daggett for governor, the Sierra Club not only made the principled choice but the right choice," said Jeff Tittel, its director said at a Statehouse press conference. "Chris Daggett has shown leadership and a real commitment to protecting our environment. He has demonstrated his willingness to stand up to special interests and politicians to do what's right for the environment. It's very rare when you have the opportunity to endorse someone of such principle and integrity with a broad background in environmental issues."Tittel said that for 25 years, Daggett has been a leader on a full range of New Jersey environmental issues and has a record of accomplishment in the public, private and non-profit sectors. Tittel said Daggett's record is "Unmatched by any current or prior candidate for governor.''
"The club endorsed Chris Daggett because he is a person of the highest integrity and has an outstanding environmental record of real achievement," Rich Isaac, the Sierra Club's political chairman. "Chris Daggett is not beholden to special interests or making backroom deals and has consistently proven that he is committed to protecting the environment."
Daggett said he was honored to receive the group's endorsement and he will work to achieve a non-partisan consensus to tackle the state's challenges.
Tittel and Isaac said Daggett's actions as EPA regional administrator and DEP commissioner earned him a reputation as an effective and independent leader who put partisan politics aside in the interest of addressing issues critical to the people of New Jersey. They said Daggett has proved beyond doubt that he cares about protecting the state's water sources and open spaces, and is willing to stand up to developers and fight against sprawl and pollution.
As EPA administrator for the New Jersey area from 1984 to 1988, Daggett ended ocean dumping at sludge dumpsite 12 miles off Sandy Hook and initiated negotiations to end all similar practices. He worked out a deal with polluters to pay $17.5 million to clean up Price's Pit in Atlantic County, a pact that was then one of the largest polluter-financed Superfund cleanups in the nation.
Daggett blocked the construction of controversial $2 billion Westway transportation and development project in Manhattan against the wishes of President Reagan and New York City business, political, and union leaders. At the EPA he also worked to get sewer plants to upgrade their discharge, resulting in the cleanup and protection of our waterways and beaches.
Daggett also crafted a widely praised agreement between the United States and Canada to cut dumping of toxic chemicals in Niagara River by 50 percent.
As DEP commissioner Daggett implemented the Wetlands Law and set up the Skylands Task Force. He was appointed by the U.S. Forest Service to head the Highlands Working Group to develop a plan for protecting the Highlands Region to implement the Highlands Forest Service Study. He denied a permit for a Chatham Township sewage treatment plant in order to protect the Great Swamp against harmful development. He also worked to stop medical waste, garbage and other debris that was polluting the ocean and washing up on our shores.
"To those who say an independent can't win in this state, I say think again," Isaac said. "Chris Daggett has already qualified for matching funds and to be in the gubernatorial debates, and he's won the Sierra Club endorsement, something we've never given to an independent gubernatorial candidate before. The club will bring all its resources to bear on this race, and do whatever we can to help Chris Daggett become the next governor of New Jersey."
Tittel added, "The fact that Chris Daggett has raised enough money to qualify for matching funds and is in the debates shows that his is a viable candidate. As the two major party candidates throw mud at each other and beat each other up, Chris Daggett will show the people of New Jersey that there is not only an alternative but there is someone who knows the issues and will fight for them."
The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the country, with a membership of over 750,000 nationwide and approximately 20,000 in New Jersey. The Sierra Club is also only one of two statewide environmental groups that can endorse candidates for election.
Daggett is trailing far behind Christie and Corzine in polls and in the latest surveys find he is little known by voters and losing support.
In 2005, the club endorsed Corzine but in the past eight months, Tittel has been highly critical of the governor's actions on environmental matters.
In response to the endorsement, Lis Smith, a Corzine campaign spokeswoman, said, "Protecting New Jersey’s environment has always been – and continues to be – a top priority for Governor Corzine. This is a pivotal time for all of us who are committed to safeguarding and improving our environment and the quality of life in our communities, with energy and climate change issues being at the top of the list.
“New Jersey was only the third state in the U.S. to make greenhouse gas reduction goals law,'' Smith said. "And, Governor Corzine launched the state’s first energy master plan since 1991, setting aggressive policies for a responsible energy future and creating more than 20,000 new green-collar jobs. New Jersey’s green, responsible and renewable energy future includes a nationally well-known solar program and the installation of more solar panels than any other state in the country except for California. New Jersey will also likely have the country’s first offshore wind power installation.”
Brittany Bramell, a Christie spokeswoman, said the Sierra Club endorsement of Daggett is a sign that organizations once aligned with Corzine are "sending a clear message that they believe him to be responsible for New Jersey's dire economic outlook and incapable of following through on important environmental initiatives and green job creation.''
Bramell added, "Since running for governor in 2005, Corzine has talked a big game about strengthening environmental protections, but his actions frequently undercut his words as he has failed to hold developers accountable to green standards, failed to provide appropriate oversight to funds designated for green projects and failed to establish a green buildings plan and green building rules.''