In Linden and Roselle, surprise primary wins

LINDEN & ROSELLE, NJ — The results are in after two closely watched primary races on June 6, one in the city of Linden and one in the borough of Roselle.

In Linden’s 6th Ward, John Roman, a Column G Democratic candidate, came out ahead of Democratic Councilman Robert Sadowski, 230 to 189.

Roman will run unopposed in November’s general election. His victory came as a shock to many, as the 20-something community activist went up against the seasoned Sadowski, who has served two terms and is a strong ally of Mayor Derek Armstead.

Roman, a lifelong Linden resident and graduate of Kean University, led a grassroots campaign, canvassing his ward, knocking on doors and building momentum for his message and mission.

The 11 Linden City Council members have been at odds with one another, with Armstead calling out several members for impeding and delaying citywide initiatives. In the meantime, those council members have admonished Armstead for dragging his feet on these same initiatives, although he secured a majority vote in January.

Roman told LocalSource that, although Armstead’s political faction maintained a majority, he is confident he can work toward some of the changes he hopes to bring to the city.

“I’ve always been the guy to want to mend this council and get the council to work together,” Roman said in a recent phone interview. “I want this city to be what it can be.”

But Roman said he was disappointed that some council members seem hostile toward him.

“These are people that don’t want discussion,” Roman said the day after the election. “They were not happy with the outcome.”

According to Roman, he approached several council members who actively campaigned against him to say that he was ready to work with them.
“I approached them and said I wanted to work with them,” Roman said. “They said, ‘Go back over there and come back in 10 years after you’ve eaten your Wheaties. It’s a disgrace that you’re a councilman in Linden.’”

Despite such negativity, Roman said he is moving forward with a positive attitude.

“No harm, no foul,” he said. “If the mayor has a good idea, let’s do it. It all comes down to the people having pride in living here. I’m taking it upon myself to take the 6th Ward into the future and to become a better place. I just want to see this city do well, and I will always side with the taxpayers.”

Democratic Councilwoman Gretchen Hickey, who won the party’s nod to regain her seat in Linden’s 10th Ward, said that Roman stopped at her house on election night to get the results.

“He is so humbled by this,” Hickey told LocalSource in a phone interview. “He was sitting there with his hands on his head and tears in his eyes. He has wanted this for so long. I actually foresee John working very well with the mayor. He’s a strong voice who wants nothing but the best for the residents.”

Hickey beat out Michael Anderson, who was backed by Armstead’s political faction, 382 to 239.

Hickey expressed disappointment, however, at Councilman Monty Brooks’ loss to Democrat Alfred Mohammed in the 4th Ward.

“He’s an amazing man,” she said of Hickey. “I really think the people in the 4th Ward are misguided.”

Two more Column G candidates pulled off momentous wins in Roselle’s 1st and 3rd Wards, where Democrat Cynthia Johnson beat out 3rd Ward Councilwoman Andrea Staten, 251 to 227 unofficially, in a bid for a seat on the council, and Denise Wilkerson trumped Richard Villeda, a Hillside Board of Education member running on Staten’s ticket, 256 to 240, unofficially.

Both Johnson and Wilkerson will run unopposed in the general election.
Staten, who is ending her first term, and Villeda, both Column A candidates, were endorsed by the Roselle Democratic Committee, including Assemblyman Jamel Holley, who is a former mayor, and Councilman-at-Large Reginald Atkins, Roselle’s Democratic municipal chairman.

Sources told LocalSource that, once the results were in, Holley went down to the polls for a recount.

The highly anticipated race came in the midst of much turmoil on the council, where the majority of the members are outspoken opponents of Roselle Mayor Christine Dansereau. In the past six months alone, five members of the council put forth a “no confidence” vote against Dansereau, a Democrat, while Atkins allegedly blocked access to Dansereau’s office with a filing cabinet just months ago. The move resulted in Dansereau filing a harassment complaint against Atkins, after which Atkins filed a complaint. More recently, four members of the council were no-shows at the May 17 council meeting and accused Dansereau of creating a hostile environment.

Johnson, who is also the vice chairperson of the Roselle Zoning Board, told LocalSource that beating out the Column A candidates took plenty of work and long hours of canvassing her ward.

“I won by reaching out to the community, knocking on doors, and going to every resident in the 3rd Ward,” Johnson said in a recent phone interview. “I said to them, ‘I want to be your voice.’ The residents didn’t even know who Staten was. She didn’t answer their calls and her whole focus was on recreation, not the 3rd Ward.”

Johnson said that she wants to work with the council to make a change and bring back democracy to the borough.

“The first six months, I want the residents to tell me what they want,” Johnson said. “My residents are my voice.”

Wilkerson said that her victory means change and progress for the borough.
“I certainly plan to represent the people, so their voices will be heard moving forward,” Wilkerson told LocalSource in a June 10 email. “Also, elected officials understand that residents are not going to allow them to make decisions that will hurt the people, so I am hopeful the council will make more sensible decisions. All in all, I am excited about the future of Roselle.”

According to Wilkerson, her victory is a result of residents finally being heard.
“This was really the people’s movement,” she said. “My campaign team consisted of Roselle residents that were passionate about changing Roselle for the better. Everyone did their part to ensure the win. We all worked extremely hard to inform and empower residents that were fed up with the status quo. In the end, the people won.”

Wilkerson said she wants to continue to inform and empower residents.
“It is my mission to get residents to understand they have the power to get the government to do what is best for the borough,” she said. “They should hold the mayor and all council members, including myself, accountable. Most importantly, I plan to work with the residents and my colleagues to chart a viable path forward for the borough of Roselle.”

Johnson, who funded her own campaign, said she is proud of running a clean campaign.

“I can’t be bought and sold,” Johnson said. As for winning as a Column G candidate, Johnson just had one thing to say: “ ‘G’ is for God, baby.”