This fall the 12-term New Jersey 2nd Congressional District congressman, who prior to the national level, served as a state assemblyman (1988-94) and Cumberland County freeholder (1985-88), will not seek re-election.
And to get a sense of why the news for veterans means so much to LoBiondo he said the past must be taken into consideration.
“We were in a very bad place for veterans,” said LoBiondo, who recently visited the Reminder office following a Salem Chamber of Commerce meeting. “I had the U.S. Secretary of Veteran Affairs under George (W.) Bush, Anthony Principi visit Vineland and listen to all the problems our veterans were experiencing. He promised results. Nothing happened. So any time the veterans community get promised by some high ranking official they are skeptical. They get their hopes up and most times are dashed. Basically the VA in Washington, D.C. would listen to Wilmington (VA Medical Center in Delaware) and did nothing.”
LoBiondo said New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker joined forces with him and demanded area veterans be treated in a different manner. LoBiondo and Booker, with the help of others, cleaned house and essentially took the Wilmington VA out of the picture from a leadership standpoint.
“It began to show immediate changes,” LoBiondo said. “Two years ago we had eight to 10 service provider agreements under the old regime which meant veterans almost had no choices. Inspira got together with the VA and they were qualified to treat veterans. We now have over 400 service provider agreements in this district. Virtually any veteran who makes the choice to receive local care can now do so. Inspira, Atlantic Care, Shore Medical…doctor of their choice.”
This most recent announcement translates to 15 family practice and psychiatry Rowan students rotating through the VA Medical Center’s Outpatient clinics to learn and take care of veterans. They will work with and learn from VA doctors, nurses and social workers and pharmacists.
On the job front LoBiondo, who serves a district of 715,000 residents, touted the recent opening of two casinos in Atlantic City: Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, and the Ocean Resort Casino (formerly the Revel Casino).
“Not so long ago we were talking about the closure of four casinos and the highest foreclosure rate in the country,” LoBiondo said. “Now for the first time we’re over 30,000 jobs in A.C. And that doesn’t include the indirect jobs.”
He added that Atlantic City should also benefit from the new lawful sports betting.
“I can’t wait to see Atlantic City during the Super Bowl,” LoBiondo said. “People are going to come for the day, week and weekend. And we’ll be the beneficiary of it. It’s been more than a 20-year process. Sports leagues, especially the N.F.L. argued sports betting would hurt the integrity of the game when they knew there was billions of illegal betting going on. They had their heads in the sand.”
Accomplishments & Regrets:
When asked about other accomplishments over his public service career as a congressman LoBiondo mentioned keeping the Coast Guard base in his district, holding on to the Federal Aviation Administration when it was targeted to movie to Oklahoma, the arrival of the Food Innovation Center in Bridgeton, Army Corp projects for the $45 million tourism industry, and the maintaining of commercial industry, which Cape May ranks as the fourth largest commercial seaport in the nation.
LoBiondo said his biggest regrets are not getting veteran services on track sooner and not bringing sports betting to Atlantic City in a more timely fashion.
LoBiondo said his decision to step away from politics has been bittersweet.
“You can’t do what I did for 24 years and not have loved it,” LoBiondo said. “The committee assignments I’ve had have been extraordinary: Intelligence Committee, Armed Service Committee. That’s the part that’s going to be hard to leave, seeing your work make a difference. I had 21 intelligence trips overseas.
“And the accolades I’ve been receiving have been very heart warming. One woman shared that she was on an insulin pump and had trouble with the government. She told me that I helped untangle her mess and I owe my life to you because I can’t live without it. If I knew people loved me this much I’d keep running…just kidding.”
But, it’s the flip side of politics LoBiondo will not miss.
“The other stuff could have been done with a long time ago: the acrimony, the personal attacks, the death threats, my wife getting hassled in a supermarket, protestors showing up at your house,” said LoBiondo, who also mentioned a group of protestors would set up shop outside his office each Wednesday since Feb. 2017. “The Democratic Congressional Committee, for all 12 re-elections targeted me. I was proud to successfully fend them off and I thank the people of our district for that. I know I was always at the top of the DCCC list.”
LoBiondo said the reason behind his re-election success was his availability, adding he entered each race with the mindset he was trailing by 10 points. His closest margin of victory was 17.4 percentage points in 2012, and on average, LoBiondo secured one-third of the Democratic vote.
“I decided early that I would make people think that I was part of triplets,” LoBiondo said. “I would go to every volunteer fire company breakfast, the VFW events, to support the causes but to also be available to the people. You have to be accessible, available and approachable. I truly think people realized I put the district first. And I’m proud we never ran negative campaigns. ”
He also wasn’t afraid to respond to his critics.
“I get a printout of every opinion that has poured in,” LoBiondo said. “I’ve called people back each day. I’d pick out the most caustic and abrasive ones first. And I’ve learned in many instances the most caustic opinionated people are surprised I called and that they had been given wrong information.”
Up for Grabs:
Is LoBiondo concerned his long held seat will flip to the Democrats this fall?
“Sure. As of this moment it looks as if (Sen. Jeff) Van Drew has a leg up on Seth Grossman,” LoBiondo said. “But, there’s a long way to go. Usually the last few weeks you have the hard cores set up on each side. It’s a matter of reaching the undecided in the middle. This district on paper is one that should belong to the Democrats and that’s why the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeted me each year.”
And, as for this “Blue Wave” where Democrats, some pundits say, might take back control of the House?
“If you look historically, whoever the president is, that party suffers in the mid terms and in some cases big numbers,” LoBiondo said. “As of now, the non-partisan Cook Report mentioned there are 37 incumbent Republicans that they rate as toss up districts races or worse. Even though we are over 80 days away, the Democrats have a real chance of picking up the majority in the House. It’ll be played as a ‘blue wave’, or Trump this, or Trump that, but the reality is it’s historical data. When I came in in ’94 the Republicans took 74 seats over after Bill Clinton was elected in ’92. The only (non)-historical change was George W. Bush in 2001, because of Sept. 11. There wasn’t a change.”
Some concerns LoBiondo has as he steps away from the political life are the bitterness and hardening rhetoric stemming from both sides of the aisle, and protecting the U.S. mainland from acts of terrorism.
New Jersey offshore drilling is still a slight concern as well, however, it’s one that is waning.
“It is not official, but (drilling off New Jersey’s coast) is pretty much off the table,” he said. “They’re focusing from Florida to Georgia. The only state north of Georgia under consideration is Maine. We are not officially off the list, but there’s nothing that leads me to really worry. But, until we’re officially off, we have to worry a little.”
When it comes to the President Donald Trump, LoBiondo gives him a mixed review.
“Military agencies are back to what they’re supposed to be doing,” LoBiondo said. “The CIA is back to what it’s supposed to be doing, which is a spy and espionage agency. The national economy is strong.
“But the president’s manner of doing business, the manner he tweets, is killing us. And I think he’s distracting from himself. He keeps these stories going when he should be talking about the good news.”
When given the opportunity to address his district, which covers 38 percent of the state’s total area LoBiondo was quite humble.
“Thank you to all the people who have put their faith and trust in me, Republicans, Independents, some Democrats, first responders, labor unions, chambers of commerce, veterans and more,” LoBiondo said. “My comfortable election margins I attribute to people realizing that I always put the district first. I was always available and accessible to the people of the district and I think if people voted for me they realized I had their back.”
And, how does LoBiondo envision his life after politics?
“I’m hoping that I can enjoy the lack of pressure,” he said. “Even winning comfortably cycle after cycle I always felt I was vulnerable. I will enjoy not having to raise money anymore, dealing with protestors…I look forward to that. I don’t know what form it’s going to take but I’d like to find a niche where I can still contribute to South Jersey and New Jersey.
“Some parts of me are ready for the change, some are not. You just don’t walk away from 24 years of pouring your heart and soul into something you love to do.”