New Jersey Mayors on The New Jersey Opportunity to Compete Act: “Let’s Get Specific”

PRINCETON, NJ – May 14, 2014, 12:30 P.M.

On May 14, Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert led a coalition of Mayors in calling on the New Jersey Legislature to pass the Opportunity to Compete Act (S1484/A1999), not simply to express their enthusiastic support for the bill, but to be specific about their beliefs of what it means to truly give everyone a fair opportunity to compete for work. The event received press in The Times of TrentonThe Princeton SunThe Princeton Packet, and Princeton Patch.

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert spoke to the wide ranging impact of overly broad criminal record screening policies: “Currently 1 in 4 American adults have criminal records, and 1 in 3 young people will be arrested by the age of 23. Like every other community, Princeton has residents who have been convicted of crimes and have paid their debt to society, but are now finding it nearly impossible to find a job.”

Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr added, “It used to be that if a neighborhood kid broke a window, the cop would bring the kid to his parents and they worked out a plan for the kid to repay the cost of the window. Today, we slap the kid with a criminal mischief charge and just like that he’s a felon. This is a problem in suburban Fanwood just as it is in New Jersey’s cities.”

Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann said, “Work is the moral fabric of American society. To exclude people from work is to deny them the very means by which to support themselves and their families. People are hungry to work, and when given an opportunity they do all they can to hold onto it, with means reliability, hard work ethic, and loyalty.”

In speaking to specific provisions of the bill central to giving people a real opportunity to compete for work, Mayor Mahr said, “We want to be clear that we support a robust Opportunity to Compete Act, one that does more than simply removing the box from the application. We support the current bill, which asks employers to be reasonable in evaluating a job applicant with a record – to consider the age of the record, the seriousness of the crime, whether the crime is related to the job, and whether the applicant has proven him or herself to be rehabilitated.”

Mayor Lempert emphasized the importance of the provisions in the bill that address how employers should treat older records. “Even when folks do get an interview, we know that some employers reject applicants for non-violent convictions that are 20 years old. Once you have gone ten years from release without getting into trouble again, you are a different person. Ten or fifteen year-old, non-violent convictions shouldn't make someone unemployable.”

Roselle Park Mayor Joe Accardi stressed the business protections built into the bill: “This bill is about changing business culture, not creating a new way for businesses to be sued; job applicants will not be able to sue businesses under this bill. The bill also protects businesses from negligent hiring lawsuits and exempts small businesses and employers in sensitive areas like law enforcement and non-profit youth-serving organizations.”

Also present were a Princeton University junior – Joel Simwinga ‘15, the Vice-President of Students for Prison and Education Reform (SPEAR) – and the Executive Director of a longstanding Princeton non-profit – Andrew Nurkin, who heads Princeton AlumniCorps.

Joel shared a personal story to highlight the unequal application of the criminal justice system and the corresponding collateral consequences: “My senior year in high school I was charged with a hit and run. But because of my background and education, I was allowed to simply pay for damages and the charges were dropped. If I had come from a different background, I would not have likely experienced such leniency, and that charge could have prevented me from getting to where I am today.”

Andrew said, “As the hiring manager of a non-profit, I can say without a doubt that the Opportunity to Compete Act is good for business. I have also taught college-level classes in New Jersey prisons for 5 years, and I would happily hire many of my students in a professional role. By refusing to consider ex-offenders, hiring managers are shutting themselves off from exceptionally talented, smart, and hardworking individuals.”

Cornell W. Brooks, CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, said, “At the end of the day, this isn’t about convicts in orange jumpsuits with shackles. It’s about people in business suits with briefcases. It’s about seeing people as prospective employees rather than as former convicts.”

The following Mayors have endorsed the Opportunity to Compete Act:


  • Mayor Steven Fulop, Jersey City
  • Mayor Liz Lempert, Princeton
  • Mayor Jamel Holley, Roselle
  • Mayor Vic De Luca, Maplewood
  • Mayor Joe Accardi, Roselle Park
  • Mayor Colleen Mahr, Fanwood
  • Mayor Bert Steinmann, Ewing
  • Mayor Alex Torpey, South Orange
  • Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh, West Windsor
  • Mayor Chris Bollwage, Elizabeth
  • Mayor David DelVecchio, Lambertville
  • Mayor Brian Stack, Union City
  • Former Mayor Antonia Ricigliano, Edison
  • Former Mayor Jerry Fried, Montclair