PLEASANTVILLE - Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono met with local residents Thursday to talk about what she called "our broken economy."

In a casual setting in a Pleasantville home, she sat down for a "kitchen table conversation" to hear directly from the residents what some of their concerns are about the economy.

Annie Smith said she remembers a time when people were excited to go to school in-state and graduate. Now, students are overwhelmed with the prospect of being in debt for years after graduating and jobs are scarce, she said.

Buono, who is challenging incumbent Republican Gov. Chris Christie, said that problem is apparent in medical and law schools.

Students now graduate with so much debt they are afraid that their credit scores will be ruined and they may not get a job to help pay off the debt, or that they won't be able to buy a house or car, Buono said.

"I'm all about creating opportunity and good-paying jobs, so that we can stay here and our kids can stay here," she said.

Negotiations, consensus-building and compromise should be the focus of any government, Buono said. She spoke about the recent battle in Trenton over open-space funding and said it is important to preserve what the state has. On Monday, an effort failed to put a question on the November ballot about long-term funding for open space in New Jersey.

Thursday's event was held at the home of Joe Yeoman on Church Street. There were about 20 people present.

Yeoman said he was contacted Wednesday by the Buono campaign and was ready to welcome them early Thursday morning, even though he was working all night in Trenton.

"This is where all the Democratic candidates come (to campaign), " he said of his home. "We were going to hold it out on the lawn but the rain put us inside."

He told Buono that he feels the current administration has taken steps that counter the idea of giving citizens the right to vote.

"We take our young people and send them all over the world making sure people can have a right to vote," he said, adding, however, that right is eroding at home.

He and other residents questioned Gov. Chris Christie's silence on the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision that struck down parts of the the Voting Rights Act of 1965, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.

Buono said that it was the most "disenfranchising and destructive" Supreme Court decision to be handed down in decades.

"Not only did (Christie) not offer his opinion, he was asked three times ... and was dismissive," Buono said. "What is more important than framing an opinion on an assault on our Democracy? I mean, I had to pinch myself. Is this 2013?"

Later in the day, Buono attended the AFSCME Summer Educational Conference at Harrah's Resort in Atlantic City.

Contact Anjalee Khemlani:

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