Unsuccessful candidate drops suit over Hillside mayoral race

HILLSIDE, NJ — The candidate who lost in the December runoff election for mayor has pulled his lawsuit contesting the vote to avoid prolonging uncertainty over who will lead the township.

Jorge Batista filed suit in December in Union County Superior Court, alleging there was voter impersonation and miscounts by county officials related to the Dec. 5 runoff elections for both mayor and township council. He withdrew the suit March 21.

Although Batista was the leader in the November general election, no mayoral candidate secured a majority of the vote in the tight four-way race, forcing a runoff between himself and Dahlia Vertreese, who won the subsequent election by 18 votes.

“We’re all on the same side here — the township’s side — and we look forward to working with Mayor Vertreese and the township council to unite our community and the deep-rooted values we share,” Batista said in a recent statement.

A court hearing for Batista’s complaint was originally scheduled for March 26, court officials previously said.
His suit called for a new election. Defendants included the Union County Board of Elections, Vertreese and her running mates George Cook, Nancy Mondella and Craig Epps.

Vertreese, who was sworn in at a ceremony at Kean University on Jan. 2, said she can now focus on moving the town “forward.”
“I’m glad that it is over,” Vertreese said in a March 22 phone call. “I wish him the best and there’s another election in four years. … That’s what he wanted to do. That’s what he felt was in his heart, and I don’t have anything negative to say about that.”

Batista’s suit also claimed that Hillside Democratic County Committee Chairman Anthony Salters’ involvement in Vertreese’s campaign violated nonpartisan election laws. Salters served as Vertreese’s committee chairman, the suit said.

“I have the utmost respect for Jorge Batista and his entire family,” Salters said in a March 22 email. “He was an election opponent. By no means in any way, shape, form or fashion was he ever considered an enemy. He is a quality individual.”

The local Democratic committee supported Batista in a bid for mayor four years ago, Salters previously said.
The suit questioned about 100 votes in the runoff elections, alleging Vertreese’s supporters had directed a third-party to impersonate voters and cast machine ballots. The suit also disputed 18 provisional ballots, claiming that they’d been stolen and destroyed before they could be counted.

Nagy Sileem, Joshua Greenblatt and Joseph Brown Sr. ran on a ticket with Batista for council and were also named as plaintiffs in the suit.

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