When Andrew Zwicker was attending the eclectic, artsy Bard College in the mid-1980s, it wasn’t easy to stand out in the very colorful crowd. But Zwicker found a way, as both a physics major and a jock playing soccer and basketball.
After graduating from Bard in 1986, earning a Ph.D. in physics from Johns Hopkins in 1993, and becoming director of science education at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, Zwicker has hopes of standing out in another crowd, the U.S. Congress.
Zwicker, seeking the Democratic nomination for the 12th District being vacated by Rush Holt, hopes to be another voice for science and technology in the House of Representatives. “Congress is made up mostly of lawyers and career politicians,” Zwicker said during a visit on April 28 to 12 Roszel Road, where he met with several business people. “Holt is one of only two physicists in Congress. On the space and technology committee there are zero scientists” and several are “science deniers. They are making terrible decisions.”
As a newcomer to politics competing in a primary that appears to be dominated by two career politicians, Linda Greenstein and Bonnie Watson Coleman, who are duking it out before the June 3 election, Zwicker knows that his candidacy is a long shot. His primary budget of $20,000 is a pittance compared to the amount of money likely to be spent by the two front-runners, each of whom has been gathering endorsements from various labor unions and politicians.
But, Zwicker said, if Greenstein and Watson-Coleman split their vote, and if he can gain some name recognition and some high-energy commitment from college students (he is also a lecturer and student advisor at Princeton University), he might come close. “It’s not a zero chance,” he said.
Among the upcoming events where Zwicker hopes to raise his public profile:
Wednesday, April 30, 7:30 p.m. Whig Hall Senate Chamber, Princeton University. A talk with the Princeton College Democrats and the American Whig-Cliosophic Society of Princeton.
Thursday, May 1, 7 p.m. ACLU primary debate at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton. Registration is encouraged at www.aclu-nj.org/debate.
Saturday, May 3, 2 p.m. South Brunswick Library, program room 1A/1B.
Sunday, May 4, 5 to 7 p.m. Meet and greet the candidate at Eno Terra Restaurant, 4448 Route 27, Kingston. RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org or 609-356-0440.
If he were to win, Zwicker would follow Holt into Congress just as he followed him at the Plasma Physics Lab as director of science education. Zwicker was raised in Bergen County, where his mother was a high school English teacher and his father ran a small business and later became an executive recruiter. After earning his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins, Zwicker did some post-doctoral work at the Oakridge National Laboratory, assigned to the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, where his research involved studying impurities in plasmas that are deterrents to successful fusion.
At the lab he met Holt, got involved in the science education program, and had an eye-opening experience about the value of public service when he mentored a student from Trenton Central High School. Zwicker helped her get a scholarship to the Peddie School and then get admitted to George Washington University — a path that has since led to a successful career.
Zwicker, 49, a Kingston resident who is married to a second grade teacher in the Hillsborough school district and is the father of three teenagers, acknowledged that many people are “fed up” with Congress and are frustrated by the fact that nothing seems to get accomplished in this polarized environment. After Holt announced his decision to leave Washington after 16 years in office, Zwicker asked him directly if he felt nothing could be done and if he — Zwicker — would be wasting his time. “He said absolutely not,” according to Zwicker.
Holt noted that some Republicans would come to him and his staff for information that would help them understand the science that was the basis for certain bills. “The science is apolitical,” Zwicker said. “It’s a way to break down the walls between people.”
In a statement on his website, Zwicker says: “I passionately believe that we need people in Congress who truly understand some of the pressing issues we face as a country such as clean energy, climate change, and making sure that our education system is the finest in the world.
“I don’t just believe this, I’ve devoted my life to it. Over the last decade, I’ve brought into the district more than $10 million of federal taxpayer funds for New Jersey students and teachers including:
“Workforce development opportunities to make sure that our high school, our community college, and our four-year undergraduate students have the skills they need to compete for the high quality jobs of the 21st century including alternative energy, sustainability, computer science, and engineering.
“Teacher development programs that help our teachers become content experts in the latest advances in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
“Inspiring students of all ages to ‘reach for the stars’ through a collaboration with NASA that sends teams aboard the ‘Weightless Wonder’ to perform research in zero gravity on the same plane that is used to train astronauts.
“Job training programs as part of a team that secured a five-year $120 million grant for an ‘Innovation Hub’ to make our schools and offices more energy efficient.”
The website statement also notes that “the one thing I’m not, is a career politician.” As he said in the Roszel Road interview, “it’s your call if that’s good or bad.”
Andrew Zwicker for Congress, 12th Congressional District, Box 191, Kingston 08528. www.zwickerforcongress.com