On Oct. 8, United States Vice President Kamala Harris visited Newark to promote vaccination for city residents. Her primary stop was the vaccination clinic at Essex County College, next to NJIT and Rutgers-Newark, where she toured the facilities and held a brief press conference regarding the Biden administration’s vaccination goals for New Jerseyans. “There will be an end to this,” she promised. “We are really starting to get ahead of this.”
In recent months of growing concern about the Delta variant and other vaccine-resistant varieties brewing, the Biden administration has sought to promote a high vaccination rate for the general public. The first months after the vaccine was made available, lotteries and prizes were given out for those who received it, but now the administration is now enforcing the vaccine more stringently.
Vaccine mandates have formally been issued by the federal government, and numerous states and private companies are following suit. Although New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is reluctant to issue a statewide vaccination mandate, the overwhelming majority of state employees have been vaccinated. Private healthcare networks are also laying down the law; RWJBarnabas and Virtua Health announced that they had let go a total of 238 unvaccinated workers.
New Jersey has a vaccination rate that is significantly above the national average, with around 66 percent of its adult population fully vaccinated compared to around 57.6 percent of the general body of American adults. However, the proportion of Newark’s adults who are vaccinated lags at around 54 percent, prompting further concern following Newark’s high number of cases and deaths earlier in the pandemic.
Although the current statistics represent an increase from Newark’s April vaccination rate of only 17 percent, there is still a long road ahead. Perhaps to reinforce this point, Harris’s husband, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, visited Newark’s East Side High School just two weeks after Harris’s own visit. “We’ve got to do better,” he explained when asked about the stagnant vaccination rate. “New Jersey is setting the example.”
On their visits, Harris and Emhoff were accompanied by New Jersey starpower; the Vice President was accompanied by Governor Murphy and Senator Cory Booker, while Emhoff traveled with the governor’s wife, Tammy Murphy.
One of the more subtle reasons for Harris’s trip to Newark was to shore up support for Murphy in the Nov. 2 gubernatorial election in New Jersey, which has grown unexpectedly tight in the last weeks. Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli trailed by a comfortable two-digit margin for the majority of the campaign but has caught up to only a six-point deficit in recent polls — surprising in a heavily blue state.
Additionally, Ciattarelli has significantly outraised Murphy during the past four weeks. Along with democratic Virginia’s deadlock between its Democrat and Republican gubernatorial candidates, the increase of Republican support in New Jersey is raising red flags for Democratic leaders. Presidents Joe Biden and Barack Obama appeared with Murphy in the previous week, according to the New Jersey Globe.
Besides the show of support for Murphy, Biden hopes to garner approval for his own spending plans. His $1 trillion infrastructure bill aims to revitalize crumbling American transport and groundwork, including $12.3 billion dollars for New Jersey.
Senators Booker and Bob Menendez released the breakdown of this funding, which includes $6.9 billion for highways, $1.1 billion for bridges and $4.2 billion for New Jersey transit over the next five years. The Biden administration has also promised New Jersey hundreds of millions of dollars to construct electric vehicle charging stations, improve high-speed internet connections and install ferry services.
Of particular note to Newark is Biden’s pledge of $1 billion to reroute or tear down highways constructed through communities of color and minorities, as well as $3.5 billion to clean up Superfund sites. These are highly polluted areas that require long term hazardous waste management, and New Jersey has more of them than any state.
In addition to these issues, however, Biden was also present in order to break ground on the reconstruction of New Jersey’s 110-year-old Portal Bridge over Hackensack. This ancient bridge carries over 200,000 daily commuters and is often the cause of delays and disruptions; therefore, Biden is interested in modernizing national transport through tangible infrastructure. His emphasis on the services that the bill will provide to New Jerseyans may also be an attempt to counter his falling approval rating in the state.
Alongside the lofty goal that Newark’s unvaccinated must reach and the visit’s political undertones, Harris found time to visit a local bakery with Murphy and Booker. The spot will be familiar to college students in the area: it is the highly reviewed Tonnie’s Minis on Halsey Street. Her order was reportedly red velvet cupcakes, slices of carrot cake, pineapple coconut cake and sponge cake with chocolate icing. Any students with a vice presidential sweet tooth? Drop by Tonnie’s Minis!