Two women challenge Armstead for Linden Democratic nod

LINDEN, NJ — The incumbent mayor and two councilwomen will make bids to run as Democrats in the upcoming mayoral primary race, they said.

Rhashonna Cosby, the 5th Ward councilwoman, and 10th Ward Councilwoman Gretchen Hickey both announced will seek the mayorship. Mayor Derek Armstead is seeking a second term this year, too.

If Cosby — who is African-American — or Hickey wins, they will be the city’s first woman mayor. Armstead, a former councilman, is the city’s first African-American mayor.

Cosby and Armstead both announced their candidacy in January.
Cosby said that, since being elected as councilwoman in 2011, she has worked on a variety of issues, including a nepotism policy, wellness initiatives, attendance accountability and background checks for those working with city children.

“As the mayor, I intend to continue my work with the council members to establish meaningful sustainable programs as well as take full advantage of the state and federal grants that fund community engagement and public safety initiatives,” Cosby said in a statement.

Hickey, a latecomer, announced she would run March 23 for mayor of Linden, which has a population of about 42,500, according to U.S. Census data from 2016. She added that as mayor, she would work toward safer streets and “tough” fiscal management.

“This is a decision I did not come to lightly,” Hickey said in a statement. “But when I talk with residents throughout this great city of ours, I am concerned that people are not better off than they were four years ago.”

According to Armstead, during his tenure as mayor residents have seen the elimination of the garbage fee and a reduction in the municipal tax this year, something not accomplished since 2006.

“My focus continues to be reducing the tax burden for our taxpayers, encouraging redevelopment investment in our town, while continuing to offer the services our residents have become accustomed to,” the mayor said in a statement.

Hickey has served as 10th ward councilwoman for two terms and is a trustee for the Linden Housing Authority as well as past president of the Linden Cultural & Heritage Committee.

Armstead, a former councilman, won the city’s top office by about 200 votes in 2014. Cosby ran for the position four years ago with the backing of the local Democratic Party, losing in the June primary by 140 votes.

Linden Democratic Committee Chairman and state Sen. Nicholas Scutari said March 26 that the party had not yet endorsed a slate of candidates.

Scutari, who represents towns in Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties, was chosen as chairman of the Union County Democratic Committee in February after a bitterly contested race against Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, a special election that revealed political alliances held throughout the county.

Hickey and Cosby both supported Scutari for the seat, which had been vacated by state Assemblyman Jerry Green. Armstead opposed Scutari in the committee election by supporting Mahr, who was serving as acting chairperson at the time. Armstead was seeking the vice chairperson position as Mahr’s running mate.

According to news reports, back in early January Scutari personally supported Armstead for the mayoral primary. Scutari did not immediately respond to a follow up phone call asking if that personal endorsement still stands.

Seats for council president, 1st Ward and the 9th Ward will also up for election in November.

Lisa Orman, who is Armstead’s sister and represents the 1st Ward, has said she will run again. Council President Jorge Alvarez will run for re-election on Hickey’s ticket; and 9th Ward Councilman Armando Medina will run again. Medina formerly ran on Armstead’s ticket, but has withdrawn his endorsement of the mayor.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version incorrectly indicated Hickey’s status with the Economic Development Committee and her affiliation to the Linden Cultural & Heritage Committee.