Democrats gain seats in Republican town strongholds

UNION COUNTY, NJ — Democrats swept three council seats in Summit, four council seats and the mayoralty in Westfield, picked up spots in Berkeley Heights and Springfield and nearly upset five-term Assembly incumbent Nancy Munoz in unofficial election results Tuesday, Nov. 7.
Both Munoz and running mate, eight-term incumbent Jon Bramnick, prevailed over Lacey Rzeszowski and Union County freeholder chairman Bruce Bergen in the 21st Legislative District, according to unofficial election results

Bramnick received 35,110 votes and Munoz 34,104 to Rzeszowski’s 32,499 and Bergen’s 31,039 with only one precinct not reporting. No Democrat has won any seat in the district since Neil Cohen in 1991.

While it was a near miss in the Assembly, Democrats were successful at the local level.
Beth Little, Matthew Gould and Marjorie Fox all dominated their opponents in Summit, winning by margins from 10 percent to more than 20 percent in unofficial vote tallies posted on the Union County clerk’s website. The results flip the nominally Republican town from a 5-2 GOP majority to a 4-3 Democrat majority with Democrat Nora Radest as mayor.

Westfield went from an all-Republican council and mayor to a 4-4 split with a Democratic mayor, while Democrat Susan Poage topped all candidates in Berkeley Heights, where less than 150 votes separated all four hopefuls. She will be the lone Democrat on a six-person council with a Republican mayor. Republican Jeanne Kingsley won re-election to her seat.

In Springfield, Democrat Chris Capodice defeated incumbent Geri Ann Bujnowski by less than 300 votes, still leaving the GOP in control of the township committee 3-2.

Republicans had minor victories, such as Rich McCormak’s two-vote victory in the 4,200-population town of Garwood to even the council in the borough at 3-3 with a Democratic mayor. They also won both races in Roselle Park, with Joseph Deiorio defeating Michael Connelly 51-49 and Jayme Lynn Negron edging Democrat Maxine Padulsky by a little more than a percentage point and incumbent independent Eugene Meola by 6 percent.
Other than the 21st district Assembly contest, state level races went about as predicted, with Tom Kean Jr. retaining his Senate seat from the 21st, defeating Jill LaZare 55 to 45 percent.

The other two legislative districts with representation in Union County, the 20th and 22nd, remained solidly in Democratic hands with Union County Sheriff Joe Cryan defeating Ashraf Hanna 84 to 16 percent to claim the 20th District Senate chair of Ray Lesniak, who is retiring after 40 years in the legislature.
Nicholas Scutari won a fifth term in the Senate from the 22nd District, joined by Assembly incumbents Jerry Green and Jim Kennedy. Annette Quijano and Jamel Holley outpaced lone Republican challenger Joseph Auborg in the 20th District Assembly race, garnering nearly five times the number of votes.
At the county level, Democrats swept the three freeholder spots, with Chris Hudak and Angel Estrada winning re-election, joined by Hillside Mayor Angela Garretson. No Republican has held a freeholder seat in Union County since 1997.

Likewise, Peter Corvelli defeated Marc Krauss for Cryan’s vacated sheriff position, winning 66 to 34 percent.
The municipal results left only three Union County municipalities, Clark, Mountainside and New Providence, entirely in Republican hands, while eight are completely controlled by Democrats. Hillside is technically non-partisan.

Democrats added the seat of incumbent Andis Kalnins in Cranford, with Jean-Albert Maisonneuve defeating the former mayor by 276 votes. Incumbent Democrat Deputy Mayor Patrick Giblin retained his seat on the five-member township committee, topping all candidates with 4,157 votes. Republican challenger Richard Buontempo ran on a campaign of staunch resistance to the proposed 900-plus apartment complex on the old Hartz Mountain office site at 750 Walnut Ave. He finished fourth of four candidates, fewer than 300 votes behind Maisonneuve.

The results will have Democrats in control of Cranford’s township committee 4-1 come January.
In other closely watched municipal races, Jorge Batista topped three challengers in the race to replace Garretson as mayor in Hillside, garnering 34 percent of the vote with Dahlia Vertreese second with 30.41 percent of the vote. The two will face off in a runoff on Dec. 5 since neither won 50 percent. It’s at least the third straight election a runoff has been needed.

Salonia Saxton received 20 percent of the vote and Sip Whitaker 16 percent. The race drew special attention due to several notable moments.
Batista suggested at a candidates’ debate on Oct. 25 “to throw a slab of concrete” over a potentially contaminated industrial site once occupied by Bristol-Myers. Reports had Saxton claiming she graduated from Rutgers but the school could find no record of her having attended the school. And one of Whitaker’s running mates for council appeared in campaign literature from an unknown source dressed as a Klansman. Batista or Vertreese will replace Garretson, whose administration has been marked by turmoil when she hired officials from East Orange and Irvington for positions within town government. One former and one current police department member are suing the town over her selection of Vincent Ricciardi as police chief earlier this year.

In Union, incumbent Democrat Joseph Florio easily won re-election to the township committee, receiving 59 percent of the vote to independent Jason Krychiw’s 27 percent and Republican Justin Verzosa’s 14 percent.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story misidentified the Assembly district number won by Jamel Holley and Annette Quijano.


One Response to "Democrats gain seats in Republican town strongholds"

  1. Roger Stryeski   November 9, 2017 at 10:50 am

    Joseph Aubourg challenged in the 20th LD!