New Jersey needs ‘a new leader’ in the U.S. Senate, Latina labor leader says

Patricia Campos-Medina is fourth Democrat to launch campaign to succeed Sen. Bob Menendez

By: - January 8, 2024 6:48 am

Patricia Campos-Medina last week became the fourth Democrat to say they intend to seek the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in June. (Courtesy of Campos-Medina).

The Democrats seeking to elbow Sen. Bob Menendez out of the U.S. Senate have mostly criticized Menendez as he faces federal corruption charges, but Patricia Campos-Medina is taking a different approach.

A labor leader who wants to be the first Latina to serve New Jersey in Congress, Campos-Medina said she would continue the legacy Menendez started as an advocate for Latinos and wished him well as he seeks to be exonerated.

Campos-Medina, who jumped into the crowded U.S. Senate race last week, said Menendez’s legal woes have been “a pain” for the Latino community that holds deep respect for Menendez and hopes he is found innocent. Menendez, a Democrat, is accused of bribery, fraud, extortion, and acting as a foreign agent.

In an interview translated from Spanish, Campos-Medina said the claims against Menendez “have hurt his credibility.”

“In this moment, I believe it’s important for there to be a new leader, and a leader who can advance the fights he started, and who has an effective record,” she said.

Campos-Medina, 50, a Democrat, serves as the executive director of the Worker Institute at Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations School and president of Latina Civic, an organization advocating for Latinas to run for office. She also spent 25 years working as a state and national union official and serving in leadership roles in progressive organizations. This is her first run for public office.

Campos-Medina is the fourth Democrat to announce a run for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. Rep. Andy Kim, First Lady Tammy Murphy, and progressive activist Larry Hamm have all launched campaigns, as has Republican Mendham Mayor Christine Serrano Glassner.

Menendez has maintained his innocence and refused to resign from the seat he’s held since 2006, despite the federal charges and the loss of party support. A superseding indictment filed last week accuses Menendez of accepting cash and gold bars in exchange for helping one of his co-defendants, Fred Daibes, seek investment from a Qatari firm with ties to the Middle Eastern country’s government.

Menendez has not said whether he will seek a fourth term this year.

Campos-Medina would be only the second Latina to serve in the U.S. Senate.

Dealing with migration at the southern border tops her list of priorities. Campos-Medina, who came to America when she was 14 amid a civil war in El Salvador, said her past gives her a critical perspective on how to deal with the migrant issue with empathy.

She wants to see America hold better relations with Latin American countries, she said.

“Resolving the immigration crisis begins in those countries, investing economically in the region,” she said. “The federal government has to change something to shift the rhetoric about the debate around immigration, because shutting down the southern border is not an option.”

Her campaign will also focus on raising the minimum wage, strengthening unions, protecting reproductive freedom, increasing funding for education, and improving access to affordable housing, she said.

Campos-Medina conceded she faces some obstacles in winning the Democratic nomination. Kim, a South Jersey Democrat, has served in Congress for five years, while several powerful county party chairs have already endorsed Murphy.

But she said she wants to fill the hole that will be left if Menendez leaves Congress. About 20% of New Jersey’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latino.

“As Latinos, we have to take on the responsibility to send more political representation,” she said. “We need to energize the Latino community, because that’s the only way we’re going to keep advancing.”

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Sophie Nieto-Munoz
Sophie Nieto-Munoz

Sophie Nieto-Muñoz, a New Jersey native and former Trenton statehouse reporter for NJ.com, shined a spotlight on the state’s crumbling unemployment system and won several awards for investigative reporting from the New Jersey Press Association. She was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists for her report on PetSmart's grooming practices, which was also recognized by the New York Press Club. Sophie speaks Spanish and is proud to connect to the Latinx community through her reporting.

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