A look ahead at May’s municipal elections

BJoey FoxJanuary 21 2022

New Jersey Globe

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. 

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It’s always election season in New Jersey.

This May, voters in many of New Jersey’s biggest municipalities, as well as some of its smallest, will hold municipal elections to determine who will lead their towns for the next four years. Across the state, Newark will elect its mayor and the entirety of its city council; Paterson will host a packed mayoral race that features one current mayor, two former mayors, and three members of the city council; and residents in the tiny towns of Pine Valley and Teterboro will decide which of their neighbors have earned their votes for town council or commission.

The filing deadline for May races isn’t until March 8, so a number of races, particularly in smaller towns, have yet to truly take shape. But nonetheless, here is a preview of every interesting municipal election that will be worth following over the next four months.

Bayonne

Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis is running for a third term after unseating incumbent Mayor Mark Smith in 2014 and beating former Assemblyman Jason O’Donnell (D-Bayonne) in 2018. This cycle, he’ll face a challenger in City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski, who launched her campaign in December of last year.

Rifts between Davis and Ashe-Nadrowski seem to have predated the mayoral campaign; the Jersey Journal reported in May 2021 that Davis was eager to push Ashe-Nadrowski and fellow councilmember Sal Gullace off his slate after running with both in 2014 and 2018, although Davis denied that allegation.

The race for the city council, where all five seats will be up, is still taking shape. Councilmen Gary La Pelusa and Neil Carroll are running for re-election on Davis’ slate, while Gullace and Councilman Juan Perez have filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) but have not yet formally announced plans.

Ashe-Nadrowski has not revealed any names on her own city council slate, nor have any candidates filed with ELEC for her now-open council seat.

Given that the mayor of Bayonne typically has implicit control over one of the 31st legislative district’s Assembly seats, the Davis vs. Ashe-Nadrowski showdown may have implications in Trenton, too. Just this past cycle, Davis turned on former Assemblyman Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D-Bayonne) and swapped him for Assemblyman William Sampson (D-Bayonne); if Ashe-Nadrowski wins, Sampson’s political future may be jeopardized.

Belleville

Belleville Mayor Michael Melham, who defeated three-term incumbent Raymond Kimble 41-39% in 2018, is running for re-election. On his slate are at-large Councilmembers Naomy De Peña and Thomas Graziano, with whom he ran in 2018.

Melham, a self-declared independent (though all local races in Belleville are nonpartisan regardless), made waves for endorsing Republican Jack Ciattarelli for governor last year, and briefly considered a run for Congress in the 8th district this year. He ultimately decided against it after Belleville was redistricted into Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair)’s 11th district, and does not yet face any clear opposition for a second term.

Irvington

In something of a settling of scores after years of discord, two-term Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss will face former Councilman Paul Inman this May, two years after Vauss knocked Inman off the council.

Vauss was first elected in 2014 by unseating incumbent Mayor Wayne Smith, with Inman – then a former school board president – coming far behind in seventh. Inman went on to join Vauss’ Team Irvington Strong slate in 2016, and was elected to the city’s East Ward council seat unopposed.

But the relationship between Vauss and Inman soured when it was revealed that Inman apparently colluded with a woman who accused Vauss of sexual misconduct, claims that ultimately came to nothing. Vauss sought revenge, and recruited Sean Evans to successfully oust Inman from the council in 2020.

Running with Vauss on Team Irvington Strong this year are three incumbent at-large councilwomen: Renee Burgess, Charnette Frederic, and October Hudley, all of whom were first elected in 2014 alongside Vauss. Inman has assembled his own council slate of Yasmina King and Allison Morris; it remains to be seen if he will add a third candidate to complete the slate.

Keansburg

Two seats on the Keansburg Borough Council, currently held by Councilmembers James Cocuzza and Michael Donaldson, are up for election this year. Cocuzza and then-Councilwoman Judy Ferraro were elected unopposed in 2018, but Ferraro resigned in December 2020 and was replaced by Donaldson.

Long Branch

Four years after demolishing 28-year mayor Adam Schneider by a 62-33% margin, Long Branch Mayor John Pallone is running for re-election, so far without any competition.

Pallone older brother, U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch), was once close friends with Schneider, and was a major booster of Schneider’s initial forays into Long Branch politics. But over the years, the relationship deteriorated, in part because of Schneider’s interactions with John Pallone, who was elected to the Long Branch city council on Schneider’s 1990 ticket.

The younger Pallone challenged Schneider in the 1994 mayoral race but lost by 530 votes, and subsequently faded into the backdrop for nearly 20 years as Schneider repeatedly won re-election. But in 2010, Pallone was elected to the city council against a Schneider-aligned candidate, setting up his eventual bid for the mayoralty in 2018.

That year, Pallone was joined by one incumbent defecting from Schneider’s slate, Councilwoman Mary Jane Celli, and four newcomers – Bill Dangler, Mario Vieira, Anita Voogt, and Rose Widdis – all of whom won in a landslide against Schneider’s five candidates. The Pallone council slate remains intact this year, and as in the mayoral race, no other candidates have stepped forward or filed with ELEC to run.

Newark

Mayor Ras Baraka, in office since 2014, has no real competition in his quest for a third term; Baraka faces at least two opponents in West Ward district leader Sheila Montague and left-wing activist Anthony Diaz, but he’s widely expected to win in a landslide, just as he did in 2018.

The bigger question, after eight years of a council that has largely had his back, is whether the mayor will finally have a member of the council elected off of his ticket and willing to consistently buck him.

The race for the city’s four at-large council seats is likely to be as sleepy as the mayoral contest; the members of Baraka’s ticket, which includes incumbent Councilmen Larry Crump, Carlos Gonzalez, and Luis Quintana alongside newcomer Louise Rountree, are all heavy favorites. Crump is himself a relative newcomer to the council, replacing his mother Mildred Crump last August after she resigned for health reasons.

And two of the five councilmembers representing ward-based seats, Central Ward Councilwoman LaMonica McIver and North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, are also favored to win another term, though McIver may face a challenge from former Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, who ran against Baraka for the mayoralty in 2018 and lost badly.

But the East, South, and North Wards all look like they’re headed for interesting elections this May.

In the East Ward, a three-candidate field has emerged to replace retiring Councilman Augusto Amodor: Michael Silva, who has Amodor’s backing; Louis Weber, running on Baraka’s slate; and Anthony Campos, who lost to Amodor by a tiny margin in 2018. All three are former police officers (Campos is the former chief of police), and all three have clear arguments in their favor as to why they’re the frontrunner in the race.

The South Ward is looking like a showdown between Pat Council, the South Ward Democratic chair and Baraka’s choice for the seat, and 2018 candidate Terrance Bankston; at least two other candidates are also running to succeed Councilman John Sharpe James. Council is likely the favorite, but Bankston may have higher name recognition from his previous runs.

Finally, the West Ward is a four-way contest between Baraka-endorsee and rapper Dupré Kelly, attorney Chigozie Onyema, former South Ward Councilman Oscar James, and Lyndon Brown. The winner will succeed Councilman Joseph McCallum, who was charged with wire fraud in October 2020.

Unless something dramatic happens, Ras Baraka will still be the mayor of Newark after this May. But if any of Silva, Campos, Onyema, or James – or any non-Baraka affiliated candidate – manages to win a seat on the council, his third term might not be quite as harmonious as his first two.

Newton

In 2018, Newton Mayor Wayne Levante lost re-election after claiming Parkland school shooting survivor David Hogg was a “crisis actor,” falling behind Councilwoman Sandra Lee Diglio and newcomers Jason Schlaffer and Matthew Dickson in a six-way race for three seats.

Now, the light-red town’s voters will determine if Diglio, Dickson, and Schlaffer – who is currently mayor – get elected to new terms on the council.

Ocean City

Though the mayor’s office and three at-large council seats will be up in only four months, Ocean City’s election season does not appear to have truly begun yet, with only one candidate having declared for any office.

Mayor Jay Gillian, should he seek re-election to a fourth term after defeating former council president John Flood in 2018, will face a challenge from at-large Councilman Keith Hartzell. But only Hartzell has filed with ELEC thus far; Gillian and at-large Councilmembers Karen Bergman and Peter Madden have neither filed to run nor made any public statements about their intentions.

Orange

The City of Orange’s four ward-based council seats will be up for election in 2022, two years after Mayor Dwayne Warren easily won re-election.

When the four seats were up in 2018, all four incumbents won re-election, though one of them, South Ward Councilwoman Jamie Summers-Johnson, did so by only three votes. But it’s not yet clear how the 2022 races will shake out, as none of the four incumbents – Summers-Jones, Councilwoman Tency Eason, and Councilmen Kerry Coley and Harold Johnson – have filed for re-election with ELEC or made any public statements about their plans.

However, ELEC has received filings from four unrelated candidates, most of whom have no apparent online presence. Jonathan Beckford, Genora Jenkins, James Ward, and Lynval James, the last of whom came in ninth place when he ran for an at-large seat in 2020, are all listed on the ELEC website.

It’s possible that a dispute last August between Warren and the council will cause an eventual showdown in this year’s elections. After New Jersey legalized recreational marijuana, Warren wanted to opt into the state’s legalization plan, but a majority of the council disagreed and passed an ordinance banning marijuana operations.

Warren vetoed the plan, and then apparently took the drastic step of locking City Hall in an attempt to prevent the council from overriding his veto. Most of the council, including Eason, Coley, and Johnson, held a meeting directly outside the locked doors of City Hall and overrode the veto from there; Summers-Johnson, meanwhile, was one of two councilmembers who supported Warren’s cannabis plan.

But with no definitive plans from any incumbent nor any online footprint from the candidates who have filed to run, it may still be a while before Orange’s 2022 elections come into focus.

Paterson

Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, after decisively winning the mayor’s office in 2018 on the heels of failed bids in 2010 and 2014, is running for re-election amid a field packed with former mayors and current councilmembers.

Sayegh’s two most prominent foes are his own two predecessors: Joey Torres, who served as mayor from 2002 to 2010 and again from 2014 until his conviction on corruption charges in 2017, and Jeffrey Jones, who beat Torres in 2010 but lost to him in 2014.

Paterson Municipal Clerk Sonia Gordon told Torres last month that she would not accept his nominating petitions because his criminal conviction bars him from holding public office. That could wind up in court.  

Two current councilmen under indictment for election fraud, Michael Jackson and Alex Mendez, are also running, as is non-indicted Councilman Luis Velez; Mendez previously finished second behind Sayegh in 2018. Rounding out the field are 2014 candidate David Gilmore and businessman Daniel Burgos Mejia.

As an Arab-American candidate in a city that’s more than 80% Black or Latino, Sayegh is an odd demographic fit for the mayor’s office. But he won in 2018 against a number of Black and Latino candidates, and may be able to assemble a similar coalition once again.

All three at-large city councilmembers up this year – Maritza Davila, Lilisa Mimms, and Flavio Rivera – have said they’re running for re-election. In 2018, Mimms backed Sayegh and Davila backed Mendez, but Davila says she’ll remain neutral in the mayoral race this year and Mimms says she hasn’t yet made up her mind.

Two other council candidates, Melvin Casey and Fordin Uddin, have also filed with ELEC, and former interim Councilman Gilman Choudhury is considering a run. Given the crowded field for the mayor’s office, it would not be surprising if more city council candidates emerge in the coming months before the March filing deadline.

Pine Valley and Teterboro

Two of New Jersey’s smallest municipalities, Pine Valley (pop. 21) and Teterboro (pop. 61), will host elections this May, in which a sizable percentage of each town’s residents will themselves be candidates.

In Pine Valley, all three seats on the borough’s commission will be up; last election, Mayor Michael Kennedy, his wife Debra Kennedy, and newcomer Kendra Clark ran unopposed.

Meanwhile, Teterboro’s five-member council will all be up for new terms. Currently, Mayor John P. Watt serves with his son, John B. Watt, and fellow councilmembers Christie Emden, Juan Ramirez, and Gregory Stein. All five were elected unopposed in 2018, though – in what may have caused some family drama – the elder Watt received one more vote than his son. (Both were behind Ramirez, the top vote-getter.)

Ridgewood

Ridgewood, one of the state’s only villages, will have two council seats up this year. Both are currently held by the council’s most prominent members: Mayor Susan Knudsen and Deputy Mayor Michael Sedon, who lost a race for the State Senate’s 40th district last year but carried Ridgewood with 58% of the vote.

In 2018, Knudsen and Sedon dispatched challengers Alexandra Harwin and Janice Willett by a collective margin of 60-40%. Knudsen was one of two Republican mayors in the state to endorse Gov. Phil Murphy for re-election. Ridgewood gave Murphy 60% of the vote last year.

Trenton

Trenton has had a messy year in politics – from the constant bickering between Mayor Reed Gusciora and Council President Kathy McBride to the endless parade of insulting comments from Councilwoman Robin Vaughn – but the capital city’s voters won’t get a change in governance until November.

That’s because, in September 2020, the city council voted to move the city’s elections from May to November in order to increase voter turnout and save money. So while Trenton is sure to host a number of competitive races this year, it won’t do so for many more months.

Union City

Mayor and State Sen. Brian Stack, who recently became the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is a force to be reckoned with both in Trenton and at home in Union City. While he hasn’t officially announced plans, he’s expected to run for re-election to a sixth term this year after winning unopposed in both 2014 and 2018.

Stack’s slate of commissioners – Lucio Fernandez, Wendy Grullon, Maryury Martinetti, and Celin Valdivia – were also elected unopposed in 2018. As long as none decides to retire or falls on Stack’s bad side, they’re strong favorites for re-election this year, too.

Weehawken

According to the Hudson County View, Mayor Richard Turner is likely to seek another term this year, meaning that the 32-year mayor would enter his tenth term. If he does run again, he’s not likely to face a serious challenge; Turner hasn’t had to run against any challengers at all since 2002.

Turner’s “Weehawken and You” slate – David Curtis in an at-large seat (Turner himself represents the other), Councilwoman Carmela Silvestri-Ehret in the 1st ward, Councilwoman Rosemary Lavagnino in the 2nd ward, and Raul Gonzalez in the 3rd ward – also ran unopposed in 2018. Gonzalez has since stepped down and been replaced by his own predecessor, Robert Sosa.

All four will be up once again this year, but assuming they remain on Turner’s slate, they’re probably safe for at least one more term.

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published this page in News and Politics 2022-01-22 01:54:10 -0800