We talked with Jim Keady in a Belmar coffee shop to discuss his 2020 run for Congress. After a few minutes, it was evident that Keady is my neighbor. While his house isn’t next door, he shares the same concerns as anyone else from the Jersey Shore. From the moment we sat down, a steady stream of passersby approached to discuss local issues. Keady’s passion for New Jersey’s 4th congressional district underpins each conversation. A sense of stewardship, palpable in his body language, defines his politics.
Instead of sticking his finger to the wind — like most politicians — Keady sticks to his ideals. He identifies issues important to voters and finds solutions. Healthcare: Medicare For All. Climate: Green New Deal. Student Debt: Expand State Education Through College. It’s a combination of refreshing pragmatism and modern value. Keady offers hope, if not answers, during tumultuous times.
A lifelong activist and NJ-4 resident, Keady’s history in the area is as rich as his public work. His convictions have never wavered. He forfeited his soccer coach position at St. John’s when he found out they partnered with Nike. Then, he traveled to Indonesia to investigate Nike’s production facilities firsthand. Recently, he provided humanitarian aid during the European migrant crisis and after hurricanes Maria and Dorian. Yet, he is best known for serving on the Asbury Park town council — during a crucial period of city rehabilitation — and placing a national spotlight on the Christie administration’s lack of support post-Hurricane Sandy.
Now, after unsuccessful attempts in 2016 and 2018, Keady is running again to represent NJ-4. His journey began in 2016 when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recruited him. He lost the primary to Frederick Lavergne. In 2018, Keady returned with a vibrant primary campaign that ended in a narrow loss to Josh Welle. This highlighted the growing dissension between the Progressives and Centrists.
Today, Keady is running for the third time; championing a progressive platform and beating Senator Sanders’s drum. He is confident in his ability to win after building support over the past four years. 2020 will be make or break for the upstart politician. Join us as we discuss his candidacy, NJ-4, and more.
“I’m passionate about progressive politics and I want us to win this district.” —Jim Keady
It’s no secret that Keady’s 2018 congressional bid was fraught with difficulties. The primary was a battle between the political pragmatism of Josh Welle and Jim Keady’s grassroots movement. Although he lost, Keady surprised everyone with almost 13,000 votes. It was a closer primary than expected for Welle, who possessed the coveted line.
Being 0-2, it would be understandable to walk away hat in hand, head held high. But, when pressed about what motivates his continued candidacy, Keady replied “I’m passionate about progressive politics and I want us to win this district [NJ-4].” This is Jim Keady. His authenticity is why, year after year, he is able to run a competitive race.
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Beyond his gravitating oratory skills, Keady has substance. This is quite unlike the demagoguery that plagues federal politics. Some of Keady’s ideas — rooted in progressive ideals — are already implemented in other countries. Thirty two out of the 33 developed countries have Universal healthcare. Twelve of these have a single-payer system. An FDR-like transformative Green New Deal would have America lead the way for the rest of the world.
For better or worse, these are the ideals that constitute Jim Keady. They’re hard to argue with, too. He’s focused on improving the human condition, the main reason humans congealed into society anyway. Regardless of their sensibility or urgency, these issues are tough to win in red districts. Yet, Keady has a two-pronged plan centered on fiscal feasibility and grassroots organizing.
Keady is a staunch proponent of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), a heterodox macroeconomic theory that argues that countries that produce their own currency can never run out of it. This makes assets, not cash, the limiting factor on the limits of fiscal policy. This explanation is very short, however, and the video below warrants a watch. MMT has recently entered the mainstream as a policy touchstone for institutions like the Federal Reserve. Even some contemporary politicians, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are embracing the theory.
Keady pairs contemporary fiscal policy with a powerful grassroots movement. Thus, demonstrating that the power of politics can still lay in the hands of the people. It’s not political speak when Keady self-characterizes his campaign as a movement.
With the Sisyphus-like challenge of flipping the gerrymandered NJ-4, Keady’s supporters provide strength:
We just had a great organizing kick off this Sunday with dozens of people at my home. We got to work. We started making phone calls and text messages, put an organizing list together. And that’s how we’re gonna win it.
It would be too simple to characterize Keady as a one-in-a-movement progressive; to typecast him as a Bernie acolyte. Beyond the “for all” proposals lay policy points and Keady’s lifelong integration into NJ-4. His propensity to look for what is most effective instead of most convenient yields innovative approaches to addiction and workers’ rights issues. Both, of which, are often overlooked in the national conversation.
The best of these policy points is Keady’s approach to the opioid epidemic. It’s a rational approach centered on harm reduction as opposed to incarceration. Borrowing from the Portuguese model, he also supports public-use sites where users can consume drugs under the supervision of trained staff. In Portugal, drug dealers still go to prison, but anyone caught with less than a 10-day supply of any drug is typically sent to a commission, where they learn about treatment and available medical services.
While controversial, the proliferation of such sites has extended to neighboring Philadelphia. Recently, a review of 75 studies concludes that such places promote safer injection conditions, reduce overdoses, and increase access to health services. Supervised injection sites are associated with less outdoor drug use, and they do not appear to have any negative impacts on crime or drug use.
We need to start looking at this as a public health issue as opposed to a criminal justice issue. And say if the goal is to limit the amount of deaths, limit the amount of addictions, limit the amount of families that are torn apart, what is the best way to do that?
Keady looks to ease another one of society’s ills, economic inequality, with the same pragmatism. Even in NJ-4, the 47th wealthiest by income per capita, inequality is evident. Large swaths of Neptune, Howell, and Lakewood have fallen behind. Keady proposes Eisenhower-era tax policy coupled with pro-union policy as the antidote.
I believe we have to increase union membership. If you look at post-WWII…I believe it was like 43 percent of American workers were unionized. Now, we’re under 10 percent. And, if you look at the growth of the stabilization of the middle class, if you put those two things on a graph they just track perfectly together. Our middle class been eroded because working people have lost their collective voice in the workplace.
However, through all of Keady’s policies is a citizen with the goal of serving the constituents of NJ-4 with all of the vigor and conviction he has, for better or worse. Between a loaded primary and lofty fundraising goals, the battle will be immense. Regardless, for Jim Keady it’s about the fight. And, with the backing of loyal supporters, a fight he will have.