Three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate spoke at a forum on Friday night and touched on a range of topics including United States involvement in the war in Gaza, the economy, and the advancement of Black Americans. Hosted by the historically African American fraternity Phi Beta Sigma, the event took place at Saint John’s Baptist Church in Bergen-Lafayette.

The three are hoping to replace embattled U.S. Senator Robert Menendez who is facing federal bribery charges.

Lawrence “Larry” Hamm, a longtime activist and chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress, received applause from the audience as he criticized Rep. Andy Kim for his congressional vote to send more money to Israel. Hamm called for an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and for the United States to stop sending money to Ukraine as well.

(The family of Andrew Washington)

Citing her own experience immigrating to the United States as a child during the civil war in El Salvador, Dr. Patricia Campos-Medina aligned herself with Senator Bernie Sanders, saying that peace cannot occur if the United States continues to support “Netanyahu's war.”

Kim called his decision to vote for more aid “one of the hardest decisions of his career,” saying that there was no perfect vote. He said that Speaker of the House Mike Johnson would only agree for an aid package to Ukraine, Sudan, Taiwan, and other humanitarian efforts across the world if aid to Israel was attached.

All three candidates called for a ceasefire in the region and for the freeing of the hostages.

Hamm, who had to be reminded more than once by moderators Amy Wilson and Donald Mosby that the event was a forum and not a debate, spent much of his time discussing human rights violations committed by the United States. This included criticizing Governor Greg Abbott of Texas for separating families at the border, U.S. involvement with the deaths of Palestinians, and the lack of equal opportunity for black men and woman in America.

Hamm received standing ovations throughout the forum and rapturous applause for declaring he would prevent the closure of any hospitals if elected.

A group of Hamm supporters attended wearing yellow Larry Hamm hoodies.

All three candidates supported an increase in the federal minimum wage to $17 an hour, term limits for Supreme Court justices, and the passing of bills HR40 and S40 which would provide reparations to ancestors of slaves in the United States.

Campos-Medina suggested the ending of the tip wage in the United States. She said that tip wage workers are mainly minority and claimed that the tip wage keeps people in poverty.

The family of Andrew Washington, a Jersey City man shot and killed by the police last August during a mental health crisis, held a photo of Washington.

Hamm’s opening and closing statements centered around Washington’s death and police brutality still occurring in the country. He mentioned that last time he was in Saint John’s Baptist Church was for Washington’s funeral.

Kim thanked Washington’s family for attending and noted his support for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020. Hamm also called for passing the law, which would make it easier for the federal government to successfully prosecute police misconduct cases, end racial and religious profiling and eliminate qualified immunity for law enforcement.

“I am very worried about what kind of America my kids would grow up in. I’m scared about what comes next,” said Kim.

Campos-Medina focused on topics relating to the economy and education, calling for a more stable middle class and saying that corporations need to do better to ensure a living wage for employees.

(Left to Right, Donald Mosby, Bradford Taylor, Amy Wilson, Rep. Andy Kim, Val Wyche, Chris Gadsden, Dr. Patricia Campos-Medina, Lawrence “Larry” Hamm)

TikTok and children’s mental health also served as a major talking point. Campos-Medina noted how white nationalism and the “MAGA” ideology had spread at a quicker rate because of social media. She worried aloud about the lack of regulation when it comes to children on social media apps like TikTok.

Kim said that apps like TikTok had exacerbated the children’s mental health crisis and called for more nurses to treat mental health in schools.

Samuel Rivo is a writer from Jersey City, NJ. He has written and produced content for many publications based in New Jersey and New York; covering elections, dissecting film, music, and television, in...