UNION COUNTY — Two Union Republicans have thrown their hats in the ring for New Jersey State Assembly seats this year, challenging two incumbent Democrats who carry significant political weight in Union County.
Earlier this month the Union County Republicans held a convention in Garwood where, for the first time in years, the committee voted for a full GOP slate in Legislative District 20, challenging incumbents Joe Cryan and Annette Quijano.
District 20 includes Elizabeth, Roselle, Hillside and Union.
The two Republican candidates, Chris Hackett and Charles Donnelly, face two strong Democratic assembly incumbents.
Cryan especially proved his mettle when he ran in 2011 and was the strong point on the incumbent Democratic ticket, driving more votes out of Union to balance an unexpected strong opposition in Elizabeth. However, when he opposed the South Jersey leadership he was stripped of his assembly majority leader position.
Although there was talk of Cryan dropping out of the assembly race this year and running for the Union County sheriff position, that failed to materialize.
Cryan’s alliance with Democratic State Sen. Ray Lesniak has been shaky since 2011 when the senior senator did not provide the support his running mate needed to help restore him to a position of power in the lower house Democratic caucus.
Meanwhile, sources indicated that in early February Cryan sat down with Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage and Lesniak to discuss the possibility of bringing fresh blood to the District 20 assembly race. Specifically there was mention of Tony Monterio, an Elizabeth resident and and cohort of the embattled Elizabeth Board of Education.
But because Monterio was a sworn enemy of Bollwage, any alliance with Cryan was taboo.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the political fence, the rejuvenated Republican party celebrated the announcement of their two candidates for assembly, attended by Gov. Chris Christie who gave a brief speech before leaving.
Chris Hackett, 23, who ran unsuccessfully last year for a Union Committee seat, was introduced by District 20 State Senate candidate John Donoso, as a “rising star.”
Half-Irish and half-Hispanic, Hackett has been touted as a candidate who can bridge the gap between the large and growing Hispanic community in the district and the Republican party, which for years has sought the support of socially conservative Hispanic voters.
“Hispanics share many of the same values of the Republican party,” said Hackett, “including fiscal responsibility, belief in the strength of the family and the notion that hard work and a strong community are the seeds of the American dream.”
Donnelly also ran unsuccessfully for a Union governing body seat in 2009 and 2010. In 2010, though, the year Christie was was on the ticket, he came within a few hundred votes of beating the Democratic incumbents.
That was the closest a Republican came to winning a seat on the township governing body since the early 90s.
Donnelly, like his running mate, wants to see responsible spending and to work alongside the governor to push for lower taxes statewide.
“Spending issues are issues statewide, and nepotism is an issue locally,” Donnelly said, adding that “people are sick of seeing people get jobs and positions because they know someone rather than because they deserve it.”
Donnelly also pointed out that spending, taxes and nepotism all go hand-in-hand in New Jersey and voters need representatives who want to do what is best for their constituents, not just themselves and their inner circle.