Today’s jobtalk is with Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, who’s first time running for office was in high school when he ran for student council. Assemblyman Gusciora serves N.J.’s 15th Legislative District and is a prosecutor for Lawrence Township.
Title: Assemblyman/Criminal Prosecutor
B.A. International Relations, Catholic University, 1982
J.D. Seton Hall University School of Law, 1988
Career Stage: Advanced
Did you know early on in your life that you wanted to go into politics?
I did. I have always been idealistic and interested in politics. When I was a kid I visited the United Nations and loved it. I wanted to be an ambassador, but when I first started to look at careers and found out that you had to have an advanced degree to become an ambassador, I changed my mind. I ended up getting an advanced degree after all, but it is very difficult to get into the Foreign Service, so I didn’t pursue it.
I’m probably a product of my upbringing; my mother was a court administrator, and my father was an entomologist. They were civic orientated, and they volunteered for the local Democratic Party. They always instilled becoming involved in government and helping people.
After I finished law school, I was working at a firm that had tickets to a Barbara Boggs Sigmund fundraiser, so I went to see her speak. I was so impressed with her that I went up to her after she spoke to let her know that I was interested in volunteering for her campaign.
She invited me to her house, and I ended up joining the campaign. After that, I continued being active in politics volunteering for the Democratic Party. Then in 1994, they needed someone to run for freeholder because they had 4 openings, which was unusual because 3 openings are the most they usually have. So they asked me. I lost, but then the next year an opening came up in assembly and I ran.
What is it about working in politics that has kept you in it?
They always say that politics is the ultimate contact sport. You are constantly putting out fires and meeting people. I love that.
Technically, this is a part-time position in terms of pay. Can you keep your hours part-time too?
That is the drawback. It’s part-time pay but full-time duties. I do have a full-time staff to help me too.
You also practice law too. Does that mean you work about 80 hours a week?
I certainly can work 80 hours a week. In politics there’s something you can be doing 7 days a week. There are always meetings with local officials or awards dinners where you’re wanted to make an appearance.
It doesn’t leave you much time for watching Sunday football or catching the nightly news.
It’s true. But I don’t have to watch the evening news because we are involved in the news.
How do you balance work as an assemblyman and as a prosecutor?
I do rely on staff a lot; my staff will follow through with the meetings I had today, for example.
I’m a municipal prosecutor, so once I leave my prosecutor job, I don’t have any work to take home. If I were working for myself as a lawyer, I would have homework.
I also teach American Government at The College of New Jersey, which I do strictly for enjoyment.
How do you manage to keep from getting burnt out?
It’s difficult. However, the job as an assemblyman varies so much and is so fascinating that it keeps me from getting burnt out. I meet many different people and help to solve many different problems, which is very rewarding. I also have a lot of fun working on some issues like medical marijuana and decriminalization of marijuana.
How do you respond to people that say politics is corrupt?
There is a very big element of corruption and it is extremely disappointing. It’s something I certainly didn’t learn about in my 8th-grade civics class. There are people who are here for the wrong reasons. In fact, I’m reading a book about Washington called, It’s Even Worse Than it Looks.
Often legislation is greatly compromised. It happens on a national and state scale.
But there are people in politics that are trying to do good things. The bills that I work on try to solve a problem and make people’s lives better.
What skills do people need to be successful in politics?
You need to be able to work with a team. And you have to be interested in other people and like solving problems to help people. Taking part in sports or student council is great preparation for working in politics.
What advice do you have for people who want to pursue politics? Is there a particular college major that you recommend?
I think you can major in anything if you want to go into politics. We have a couple of dentists in the legislature; there are doctors and farmers too.
You have to be people orientated. If you don’t like people and you don’t want to listen to people, you probably shouldn’t go into politics.
What’s one of the biggest misconceptions that people in other states have about N.J. politics?
That the difference between The Sopranos and the N.J. Legislature is that one is fiction. I belong to the Council of State Governments, which is a regional governmental organization of states and provinces in the Northeast. I also belong to the National Conference of State Legislatures. I get to meet many other legislators, and we really have more similarities (with other states) than differences.
Each state has really liberal politicians, really conservative politicians, politicians that are there for the wrong reasons, and politicians that are there for the right reasons. In case and point, the Vermont legislature pay is extremely low and they meet for a very small period of time once a year and work on legislation. Their districts have 3500 people so you could literally knock on all of your constituents’ doors. My constituency is 215,000 people. But if I talk to Representative Carolyn Partridge in Vermont, she’s working on the same issues that I’m working on. We’re on an environmental task force and we worked on electronic waste issues. This year we’re supposed to start recycling TV’s and computers and this was a bill that we worked on collectively through the Council of State Governments. Legislators are all the same. You’ll find the ones you want to work with and avoid the ones you don’t want to work with.
Who are some of you mentors?
Barbara Boggs Sigmund was rocket smart, really dynamic and someone who I want to emulate. Mike Synar, who was an Oklahoma Congressman and a firebrand liberal that did not shy away from controversy, is another one of my mentors.
What do you love about N.J.?
As compact as we are, there’s something for everybody. We have mountains, lakes, ocean, and farmland. It’s a diverse group of people. We also have a great public education system here. When I worked with Mike Synar, I got to go visit Oklahoma a couple of times. That is a state that’s completely different from N.J. and gave me such an appreciation for N.J.
Where is one of your favorite places in N.J.?
Lately, Asbury Park. It has a beautiful beach and a great boardwalk. I like hiking in the Delaware Water Gap too.