Bob's Kickoff Speech: "Stand Up For New Jersey"
You know you can take the boy out of Union Hill, but you can't take the Union Hill out of the boy! There are only 100 United States Senators out of 300 million Americans, and this one is proud to be a Hiller.
Of all the places I could have announced the start of my campaign, I wanted it to be here at Union Hill. My journey began here, just as it has for all of you in this audience.
As I look out into this crowd, I wonder how many United States Senators I see...how many businesspeople...how many nurses and doctors...how many role models. I'm not different from most of you. Sitting in this school at your age I had no idea where my life would lead. But because this is a place where dreams are nurtured, where hope is given the tools to become reality and where opportunity takes off anything is possible.
I was raised just a few short blocks from here, in a small apartment on Hudson Avenue. It was physically cramped, but that apartment was here in Union City, here in New Jersey, here in America; so while the walls were tight, the opportunity was unlimited.
When my parents came to this country they found a land where people are free not only to pursue their dreams, but also a country that gives them the tools to realize them. In America, freedom and opportunity are the keys that unlock success not just for the rich or the connected, but for anyone who is willing to work hard.
My parents did not have, nor did they seek, an easy life. Like so many who grew up here and who came here, they valued work, family and respect for others. My mother was a seamstress, my father an itinerant carpenter and we never had more than just enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table. But as they raised my brother, sister and me, they always taught us that what we had was worth more than what we lacked. They never let us forget that we were in America, the land of endless opportunity, hope and potential. Like so many other parents who were working toward the American Dream, they made the three of us true believers that in the proposition that in this country we can seek out reach for and achieve our highest goals if we stay true to the core principals that we saw them live by. First, work hard and whatever the job do it to the best of your ability. Second, respect your neighbors I always remember, even though we didn't have much there was always a seat at our table for someone who was struggling even more than our family. And, most of all, no matter what, always stand up for what is right.
Standing up for what is right often means fighting against the toughest odds to protect others, to win justice or to bring about change.
Think about it for whom would you risk your safety to defend?
Some of you would stand up for your mother and father...some for your little brother or sister...some for your best friend...some of you might even stand up for this school.
And sometimes standing up means putting something you cherish at risk. I loved my job as the Congressman from this area. So, some ask me, why did I leave a safe seat in the House as well as my leadership position for a seat in the US Senate?
The answer is more compelling to me today than when I first answered it. I am convinced that our nation is headed down a perilous course at this moment in history. I am certain that our nation must alter our course. That is why I am clear that one Senator committed to an ideal and a cause can create change. And that's exactly what I will do.
This administration and its allies in Washington have taken the wrong position time after time. They were wrong on Iraq, wrong on trying to sell our ports to a foreign country, wrong on siding with big oil over consumers, wrong on giving tax breaks to the wealthiest, resulting in record deficits that the students in this room will be paying off for years. They were wrong on their response to Katrina, wrong on trying to privatize Social Security, wrong on cutting aid to put a college education within the reach of kids from working families and wrong on opposing a decent minimum wage.
Yet my opponent supports George Bush's war in Iraq and longs to be part of the status quo in Washington. I couldn't disagree more. We need to change the direction of our nation and I will be an agent of change.
That journey to stand up, to be an agent of change, began right here when I was a student at Union Hill.
It started when I was accepted into the honors program. That was the good news. Then I found out that you had to buy the books for the courses. I think the cost of those books was around $100.
First, it seemed wrong to me that any public school student was forced to pay extra to get a required book. But frankly, my concern was also rather personal. My family didn't have a spare $100 to buy schoolbooks. My mother worked long hours in a tightly packed garment factory $100 was an enormous amount of money to scrape together.
I was so insistent that the high school principal offered the books for free. But I didn't want special treatment for me; I wanted the school to do the right thing for everyone.
So rather than simply complain, I ran for the school board and won. At 20 I was making my voice heard rather loudly on my local school board. And so, my journey for change, for standing up for what I believed was right had begun.
Standing up for what is right also means standing up to what is wrong. I learned this when I went to work for the mayor of Union City a man who had become a mentor to me. I respected him. But I soon saw that this man that I looked up to as a role model was betraying everything I believed. He had turned his back on the public trust and was now using his office for personal gain.
Should I stay silent? Or should I speak out? It was one of the hardest choices I've ever faced, but it was a clear one. I testified against that mayor at his federal corruption trial. And that mayor who tried to deceive and steal from the people he served was convicted...and it made a difference for the people of this city.
Change is rarely simple and standing up is never easy. But if you want to be a leader instead of a follower, if you want to change things for the better instead of accepting the status quo, you have to stand up, you have to be strong.
Standing up for the people of New Jersey is what my job as your United States Senator is all about. Standing up to powerful interests to change this nation for the better is what I dedicate myself to every single day.
When President John Kennedy committed the United States to the almost impossible goal of landing on the moon within a decade, he said, "We choose to go to the moon and do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard."
And that is the essence of what anyone of us who asks to hold public office must keep in mind. We should not be elected because we know how to go along, we should be elected because we know how to stand up. We should be elected because we know that there are tough fights and that sides must be taken and choices must be made.
There are oil companies making billions while we pay more at the pump and our environment suffers; there are defense contractors profiteering while our troops go in harms way and our veterans go without; there are insurance companies who limit our medical choices while we worry about having enough coverage for our families. In Washington there are a powerful few with far too much influence that comes at a cost the rest of us must pay.
And the need for change begins with the misguided leaders in Washington who started a war in Iraq without the facts, without the truth and without a plan to leave. They confused military might for moral strength. It is an arrogance that has cost us our bravest and a conceit that has lost our nation the ethical high ground that earned us admiration around the world since our country was founded. I stood firm to protect America in the post 9/11 world, but I am proud to say that I opposed this war from the beginning ... even when most of my colleagues supported it.
When I vote on issues of war and peace that are also about life and death, I ask two questions. Is this in the national security interest of the United States and would I send my son and daughter into battle? In Afghanistan I answered both questions in the affirmative and so I voted yes. This is where Osama Bin Laden was, this is where Al Qaeda was, and the Taliban was giving them sanctuary. These were the masterminds of Sept 11 and the murderers of 3,000 of our citizens of which 700 were fellow New Jerseyans. Finding and defeating Bin Laden and Al Qaeda was in the national security interests of the US and yes, I was willing to send my son and daughter to fight.
So how could we apply that same standard to Iraq when there was no clear and present danger to the United States, no imminent threat and above all no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. Why divert our military from the hunt for Bin Laden? It was Bin Laden who proclaimed himself the enemy of our country; it was Bin Laden who bragged of murdering innocent Americans. So why would we go to Iraq when the threat to our national security was hiding in the hills of Afghanistan?
Today over 2,400 lives later, $300 billion, and $6 billion a month more with no strategy for success, I know standing up to George Bush on Iraq was the right decision. We need to change the course of events in Iraq in order to bring our troops home sooner rather than later. I will be that agent of change.
I know how to make hard choices like that because I know where I come from, I know who I stand up to and I will never forget who I stand up for.
As a mayor, a state legislator and a Member of Congress I have helped change the communities and the lives of the people around here for the better.
Long before ipods, I helped make sure that Union City had one of the first fiber optically wired schools in the country. I helped bring the new light rail line to our communities to help boost our economy and clean up our environment. There are new homes, new jobs all over this area we're even called Wall Street West and the Gold Coast.
I won $400 million in federal aid to modernize New Jersey's shipping ports and kept 283,000 jobs in our state instead of losing them to Canada. On my first days on the job as your United States Senator I led the fight and stopped George Bush's misguided plan to sell our ports to the government of Dubai.
Too often, New Jersey doesn't get our fair share from Washington, so I stood up and I told President Bush I wouldn't allow a vote on one of his nominees unless he released $150 million of our tax dollars in highway funds for New Jersey and we won.
I didn't slow down there. I fought for, and won, $1 billion more to increase security at our nation's ports, and I am fighting for higher safety standards at chemical plants, and on the bus and rail systems so many New Jerseyans ride each day.
My Patient Navigator bill was signed into law making it easier for families to deal with the health care system and find options for the care they need.
Now, I'm standing up to the big oil companies whose profits soar while we dig deeper every time we fill up our cars. I believe we need an Apollo-style project to break America's addiction to oil. Ending our dependence on foreign oil will make us safer, protect our environment and create a new economy where clean, renewable energy is produced here in America, here in New Jersey.
Every candidate will tell you that the election they're in is the most important ever. But this year truly is different. The stakes are higher because so much is on the line from war and homeland security to our health care, our education and our retirement.
Washington is going in the wrong direction and together we must change that course. I know that I will be that agent of change, and my opponent will simply be another vote for George Bush's agenda.
I ask for you support and for your vote to continue this fight for change.
New Jersey cannot afford to send to Washington a Senator who will sit quietly while the Congress spends billions of dollars for tax breaks for the big oil companies, but can't find a dime to make it easier for more families to go to college.
New Jersey cannot afford to send to Washington a Senator who will blindly follow the president as he marches our country further and further down the road to dangerous insolvency at home and reckless entanglements abroad.
We need a Senator with the strength to stand up to the status quo in Washington, with the voice to tell the president he's wrong whether it is easy or not.
Real strength the strength that matters comes from your heart, not your hands.
My strength comes from how I was raised and where I was raised. And all of you have that same strength inside you.
So let me ask this question again what would you fight for? What would you risk to change what's wrong? Who would you defend? Whose side would you take?
I know who I stand up for.For New Jersey. For all of you. I always have. And I always will. No matter what.