There were few areas of agreement in Tuesday’s debate between the major-party candidates for lieutenant governor, with Democrat Sheila Oliver and Republican Carlos Rendo trading barbs about one another and the would-be governors each hopes to serve.

Oliver, an assemblywoman, and Rendo, an attorney and mayor, were both on the attack from the night’s first question. While the tone got most curt around seemingly ancillary issues related to Cuba and Israel, it may have been about illegal immigration that the exchange was sharpest.

Asked by moderator Michael Aron, the NJTV political reporter, whether Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno’s TV ad about ‘sanctuary states’ relies on the ethnic stereotype of young Hispanic males as violent criminals, Rendo – who emigrated from Cuba in 1966 at age 2 – said that wasn’t the case.

“This is not about ethnic slurs or ethnic background. This is about a cold-blooded murderer that needs to be sent to justice. It’s not ethnicity. It’s murder, cold-blooded murder,” Rendo said.

“When we run for the position of lieutenant governor and governor, we run to uphold the law of the state of New Jersey and the federal government. So as governor, your job is to uphold the law. That’s what we will do,” Rendo said. “On the other hand, the Murphy and Oliver ticket is the most anti-cop, anti-law enforcement ticket in the history of the state of New Jersey.”

Oliver, the running mate of Phil Murphy, said she was “abhorred at that ad.”

“It was a disgraceful, divisive, pitting one ethnic and cultural group against the other, and that is how the Lt. Gov. Guadagno campaign has conducted itself in these past several weeks,” Oliver said.

Oliver said that being a “sanctuary state” doesn’t mean that law enforcement won’t cooperate with federal immigration officials.

“It means that unlike Lt. Gov. Guadagno, who deputized her sheriff’s officers when she was Monmouth County sheriff, going into people’s homes in the middle of the night, tearing families apart, Phil Murphy and I will not do that,” Oliver said.

Rendo said Guadagno doesn’t want to tear families apart.

“This is simply about protecting the criminal element. Like I said, 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 element over hard-working immigrants in this country.”

Rendo’s charge that the Murphy/Oliver ticket is anti-police was one he made repeatedly. Oliver shrugged it off, saying her legislative record shows that isn’t the case.

Oliver has a recurring theme, as well. She often implied that Rendo, who has held elected office for less than four years, none of them higher than mayor of Woodcliff Lake, a borough of 6,000 people, doesn’t know about the workings of state government.

Oliver has been a legislator for almost 14 years, including four as Assembly speaker.

Woodcliff Lake’s budget is $13 million, but Rendo said he’s “absolutely” ready to audit New Jersey’s $35 billion in 100 days, as would be his charge if Guadagno wins the election.

“It’s no different than auditing a $13 million budget. We go line by line, and we see where the waste is and not,” said Rendo, who added that he was able to identify $22,000 in savings in auditing Woodcliff Lake’s budget.

That’s about 0.2 percent of spending. To find the $1.5 billion in savings needed to pay for Guadagno’s promised ‘circuit breaker’ limiting homeowners’ school taxes to 5 percent of their income would require a magnitude several times larger – around 4 percent, though that doesn’t account for state spending that takes place outside of the budget itself.

“They will not find rampant fraud, abuse and waste,” Oliver said. “… They have no plan. It sounds sexy. It sounds appealing.”

Monday's debate was held at Montclair State University.

Murphy and Guadagno will meet Wednesday at 7 p.m. at William Paterson University in Wayne for their second and final debate.

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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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