- Associated Press - Monday, October 16, 2017

MONTCLAIR, N.J. (AP) - The two top party candidates to be New Jersey’s next lieutenant governor clashed forcefully in Monday’s first and only debate before the Nov. 7 election to succeed GOP Gov. Chris Christie, with the Republican candidate calling the Democrats the “the most anti-cop” ticket in state history.

Carlos Rendo, the Republican mayor of Woodcliff Lake and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s running mate, pursued an attack first rolled out last week in a campaign TV ad that said Democrat Phil Murphy would have the backs of violent criminals who also are in the country illegally.

“This is the most anti-cop, anti-law enforcement ticket in the history of the state of New Jersey,” Rendo said. They prefer to protect the criminal elements.”

Democratic Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, a former Assembly speaker, rebutted Rendo’s attack saying that her record shows she’s “absolutely not” anti-law enforcement.

The exchange stemmed from a question about a 30-second TV spot that features the case of Jose Carranza, who was convicted in 2007 in the slayings of three college-bound students in Newark. The Peruvian immigrant was in the country illegally.

The ad features Murphy saying he will have “their back,” referring to immigrants who are in the country illegally, but leaves out the fact that he called the murders “heinous” and said criminals should be prosecuted.

The ad was quickly condemned, including by former Vice President Joe Biden.

Oliver called it “disgraceful” and said it pitted cultural groups against one another.

“I am abhorred,” she said.

Murphy leads Guadagno in the polls and has more than $5 million in cash on hand, to her roughly $1 million.

The candidates also clashed over a number of other issues.

Rendo backed a Christie administration plan to attract Amazon to Newark, including roughly $5 billion in new state tax incentives. Oliver said she and Murphy want to attract Amazon, but stopped short of supporting the tax credits, which the Democrat-led Legislature backs.

“I don’t think it’s time to commit,” she said. “I don’t think it’s time to rule it out.”

Support for Israel and charges of anti-Semitism also surfaced.

Rendo, whose town is the subject of a federal investigation into whether it violated a religious land-use law, called the allegations that the town denied a Jewish organization from acquiring land “false.”

Oliver voted against what eventually became a law barring the state from investing in companies that boycott Israel. She said Monday that the bill should have been broader and that she didn’t have “an anti-Semitic bone” in her body.

The candidates differed over marijuana legalization, which the Murphy campaign backs. Rendo said Guadagno backs decriminalization so “adolescents” wouldn’t be “locked up” for possession.

They also clashed over their approach to property taxes, which are the highest in the country and shown in polls to be the top issue.

Rendo pushed for the renewal of an expiring 2 percent cap on what some police and fire officials can earn in labor disputes if their contracts go to arbitration. Oliver echoed Murphy’s position of declining to stake out a position.

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