UNION COUNTY, NJ — Freeholder incumbents Bette Jane Kowalski, Sergio Granados and Rebecca Williams appeared to win relatively easily in their bid for the Democratic nominations to the county commissioner board Tuesday night, beating back two slates of challengers.
Kowalski, Granados and Williams — running on the endorsed line — had a more than two-to-one advantage in unofficial early results over their closest rivals, Wilma Campbell, Alex Lospinoso and Sylvia Turnage, who were running under the Democrats United For Progress banner.
A third slate of candidates, running under the People First Democrats heading and backed by Linden Mayor Derek Armstead and Union County Vice Chair and Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, finished third in the race for the three seats.
The victory in the race for the Democratic freeholder nomination is tantamount to winning the seat in Union County. Democrats hold a better than three-to-one registration advantage and no Republican has won a freeholder election since 1998.
The freeholder contest, along with a few other races, was seen by many as another confrontation between Armstead and Union County Chairman and state Sen. Nick Scutari. The two have been battling for more than a year after Armstead backed Mahr against Scutari in the race for the Union County chair position.
Scutari, who is also the Linden Democratic Party chair, relegated Armstead from the endorsed line for mayor in last year’s primary. Armstead still won the primary and the subsequent general election, and when the Linden City Council convened in January, the council dropped Scutari as municipal prosecutor after 16 years. The two have fought — including in the courts — over a vacant 8th Ward council seat in Linden as well as over a retroactive pay raise for Armstead.
People First Democrats also lost handily to Scutari-supported Regular Democratic Organization candidates in races for the nomination in the 20th and 21st Legislative Districts. Incumbents Annette Quijano and Jamel Holley trounced Kenneth Jones in the 20th LD, while Lisa Mandelblatt — who briefly bid last year for the 7th Congressional District Democratic nomination race won by Tom Malinowski — and Stacey Gunderman easily beat Jill Lazare in the 21st District. Lazare, an attorney, lost in 2013 and 2015 for the 21st LD Assembly seat against Republicans Jon Bramnick and Nancy Munoz and in 2017 against Tom Kean for the 21st LD Senate spot.
In the 22nd LD, Assembly incumbents James Kennedy and Linda Carter won over the Democrats United For Progress candidates Carlos Rivas and Mark Lighten.
One race where the Scutari-chosen candidate was beaten was in the 8th Ward of Linden. Paul Coates, who prevailed last month in a legal tug-of-war with Armstead to be seated, was beaten by Democrats United candidate Garnett Blaine.
Blaine won the race easily 305-127 with all 100 percent of the vote counted. Coates was seated by a judge’s order after, following Michele Yamakaitis’ resignation in January to become council president, the Linden City Council voted to keep the 8th Ward spot open until November.
In the rest of Linden, Democrats United candidates won three of the other four contested city council seats, which like the freeholders, is tantamount to winning the general. Barry Javick, Monique Caldwell and Ralph Strano all won. Incumbent Rhashonna Cosby was the only Regular Democrat to win. Javick’s victory in the 2nd Ward was by only six votes, 211-205, over Donald Beyer, and Cosby prevailed by only 29 votes over Marlene Berghammer.
Caldwell easily defeated Jorge Alvarez 293-183 for the 3rd Ward nomination and Strano defeated Terrance Brown for the 7th Ward nomination 302-187.
In Roselle, Mayor Christine Dansereau, running as a People First Democrat, prevailed in a three-way bid for the mayoral nod. She received 1,094 votes to Regular Democrat Donald Shaw’s 924 and Democrats United’s Archange Antoine’s 647. Antoine announced his bid after he was thrown off the Roselle school board for too many missed meetings.
In a four-way race for an at-large council nomination, 1st Ward Councilwoman Denise Willkerson prevailed with 1,073 votes. She ran as a People First Democrat. Regular Democrat Janna Williams came in second with 780 votes, ahead of 3rd Ward Councilwoman Cynthia Johnson with 605 and Lociano Benjamin with 75. Johnson ran under the Democrats United banner.
In another countywide vote, endorsed incumbent James La Corte appeared to have defeated Democrats United hopeful Lisa McCormick by a nearly two-to-one margin in the Democratic nomination for surrogate. McCormick, of Rahway, made headlines last year by challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez for the Democratic nomination and getting nearly 38 percent of the vote with a dramatically underfunded campaign.