ELIZABETH, NJ — In an attempt to bring nonpartisan elections to the city of Elizabeth, a committee of five Elizabeth residents has introduced a Petition of Referendum for the General Election.
The petition, prepared and executed in accordance with pertinent provisions of N.J.S.A. 40:69A-1 and N.J.S.A. 40:45-5, was brought forth to residents of the state’s fourth largest city by the Citizens for Open, Fair and Honest Elections, comprised of Chairwoman Sima Farid, former Elizabeth Board of Education member Carlos Trujillo, Elizabeth BOE member Paul Perreira, Armando DaSilva and Joseph Padlo.
According to Farid, the public question was created by the committee to make the elections fair in a city that has had just two mayors in 55 years.
Mayor J. Christian Bollwage, a Democrat, has been in office since 1992, with former Elizabeth Mayor Thomas Gerard Dunn, also a Democrat, serving an almost 30-year term starting in 1964. Bollwage was re-elected to another four-year term in 2016.
“Elizabeth is behind the times,” Farid told LocalSource in a recent phone interview. “With partisan elections, people don’t even bother running. With nonpartisan elections, everyone has a fair shot.”
Nonpartisan elections would, according to Farid, provide everyone with fair placement on the ballot.
The petition has close to 1,000 signatures so far — just 200 signatures shy of the 1,200 required to make it onto the ballot in November. The petition must be submitted to the city clerk the first week of September, according to Farid.
The petition put forth was addressed to Yolanda Roberts, the Elizabeth city clerk, and asks that the following public question and its interpretive statement be printed on the official General Election ballot for the Nov. 7 election:
“Shall the charter of the City of Elizabeth be amended, as permitted under that plan, to provide for the holding of regular non-partisan municipal elections on the day of the General Election in November, with run-off elections to be held thereafter if a sufficient number of candidates fail to attain a majority of votes, be adopted by the voters of Elizabeth?”
According to the question’s interpretive statement put forth by the committee, “Approval by the voters of this Public Question will provide for the direct election of the mayor and city council members by all Elizabeth voters on a non-partisan ballot at the November General Election, similar to that of the Elizabeth School Board.”
It also states that, “Candidates will have direct access and ballot placement through nominating petitions, bypassing the June political party Primary Election in which candidates and voters are required to declare their political party registration. In addition, the provision of a runoff election guarantees that those elected must attain a majority of votes cast in order to be deemed elected regardless of how many candidates seek the position.”
In 2010, the state Assembly approved a bill that was signed by then-Gov. Jon Corzine, allowing New Jersey towns to move to nonpartisan elections.
Bill No. A-351 now allows municipalities that currently hold nonpartisan municipal elections to move the election to the same date as the general election through passage of an ordinance.
The petition has close to 1,000 signatures so far — just 200 signatures shy of the 1,200 required to make it onto the ballot in November. The petition must be submitted to the city clerk the first week of September, according to Farid. Perreira told LocalSource that he was intrigued as soon as he heard about the petition.
“I believe that in our city, elections are not in a level playing field, looking from the point of view where any citizen should be allowed to cast their name into a political race to serve his or her community,” Perreira said in a July 26 email. “Even though you can do so today, the odds are stacked against you right out of the gate. You are working against career politicians that have enormous election funding resources and no limit on consecutive terms, which creates the system of complacency we have today.”
According to Perreira, the petition would save taxpayers money by eliminating the primary election in June for all city elected positions, with all candidates then running on same ballot in a November General Election.
“Most registered voters in our city do not want to affiliate themselves to either party,” Perreira said. “They rather vote in November and cast a vote based on a candidate and his or her platform, rather than just a party representative. I also believe that the next step should be to create term limits. I can’t believe that to this day, this city has only had two mayors in the last 55-plus years.”
“This would be wonderful for the residents of this city,” Farid said. “I want to get as many signatures as I can to make sure the question gets on the ballot. Elizabeth deserves better.”