Menendez deserves new Senate term

New Jersey voters have something to celebrate with this year’s U.S. Senate election. For the first time in a long time, they have two credible candidates from which to choose.

State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, 52, of Middletown, is the most substantial Republican candidate in recent years. His 24 years in the Statehouse established his reputation as a moderate who could work with the other team. In the Legislature, he was a leader for education accountability, college savings accounts, open space, and shorefront preservation.

Sen. Robert Menendez

Bucking the tea-party Republicans, Kyrillos refused to sign an irresponsible no-tax pledge. But his own plan to solve the nation’s economic problems is foggy. Like presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Kyrillos talks about closing tax loopholes, but he won’t be specific. His vagueness makes it risky for voters to take a chance on how he would vote if elected.

Even if Kyrillos were more forthcoming on taxes, he hasn’t made the strong case necessary to dump Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez. Hewed in the tough-guy world of Hudson County politics, Menendez brought his experience as a fighter to Washington, where he first served in the House, rising to caucus chairman.

In the Senate, Menendez’s key assignments on the banking, finance, and foreign relations committees have allowed him to fiercely advocate for the middle class and vulnerable Americans.

As a member of the conference committee reviewing the transportation bill, Menendez changed the transit-funding formula to give New Jersey more money for trains and buses. He has been less successful in trying to wipe out tax subsidies for big oil companies. But the senator has brought home funds for commercial development and biotech and energy firms, and lowered borrowing costs for small businesses.

Given his heritage in Hudson County politics, it might not be a surprise that Menendez’s reputation isn’t without tarnish. Twice, grand juries looked at allegations involving him, but returned no charges. Earlier this year, he received a rare letter from the Justice Department saying it had closed an investigation into what appeared to be politically motivated charges that he improperly rented a house to a social services agency.

Those probes do not diminish his accomplishments, which is why The Inquirer recommends ROBERT MENENDEZ. The son of Cuban immigrants, Menendez, 58, of North Bergen, has long been active in creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. He was also among the first to call for an early withdrawal from Iraq, and has pushed for tough sanctions on Iran.

He helped pass the Affordable Care Act, has championed better health care and pay equity for women, battled credit-card companies and airlines to disclose hidden fees to consumers, and worked to ease home-mortgage refinancing, increase college aid, and cut student-loan costs. Menendez has worked with Republicans to fund autism care and to subsidize housing for the disabled. The voters of New Jersey should give him another term.