Assembly minority leader Jon Bramnick and fellow Republican Nancy Munoz appeared to have beaten back a Democratic upset bid for the second straight election, prevailing in the 22nd Legislative District race despite the wildcard entrance of two “independent conservative” candidates.
With 98 percent of the precincts reporting in, Bramnick had a better than 3,000-vote lead over closest Democrat Lisa Mandelblatt while Munoz was more than 2,500 votes ahead of Mandelblatt. Democrat Stacey Gunderman was further back.
All results are unofficial until mail-in and provisional ballots are counted, which was expected to take several days.
The race was the second close call in as many elections for the long-serving Bramnick and Munoz. Bramnick has been in the Assembly since 2003 and Munoz since 2009, when she replaced her deceased husband.
Democrats were buoyed by nearly upsetting Bramnick and Munoz in 2017, when they came within about 1,500 votes of beating Munoz and 2,500 of defeating Bramnick. Republicans have won every election for the Assembly and Senate, except for one, since the district — which includes 10 municipalities in the center of Union County — was redrawn after the 1980 census.
Many felt this year’s race might be influenced by the entrance of Martin Marks, a former Republican mayor of Scotch Plains, and Harris Pappas, a former Democratic Springfield Township Committee member, who could siphon votes from Bramnick and Munoz. Marks and Pappas combined to get only about 2,200 votes.
The key to this year’s election appeared to be Bramnick’s and Munoz’s ability to win Union County, something they were unable to do in 2017, when they relied on a heavily Republican vote from Somerset and Morris counties in the gerrymandered district.
With nearly all Union County precincts reporting, Bramnick was about 700 votes ahead of Mandelblatt, who briefly ran as a candidate in 2017 for U.S. Congress, while Munoz was about 200 votes ahead.
Democrats easily held their seats in the other districts representing Union County.
Annette Quijano and Jamel Holley were more than 10,000 votes ahead of Republicans Ashraf Hanna and Charles Donnelly for Assembly in the 20th Legislative District, which covers Elizabeth, Hillside, Roselle and Union.
Quijano won a sixth straight term while Holley claimed his third. Republicans have not won in the district since 1979.
In the 22nd Legislative District, which includes Clark, Fanwood, Linden, Plainfield, Rahway, Scotch Plains and Winfield Park, incumbents Jim Kennedy and Linda Carter easily beat former Garwood Mayor and lone Republican Pat Quattrocchi. Kennedy won a third term while Carter was elected to her first full two-year term, having been selected to replace nine-term Democrat Jerry Green in 2018 upon his death and then winning a special election to complete his term.
Republicans have not won in the 22nd since the district was redrawn after the 2000 census.
At the county level, Democrats easily kept all of their freeholder seats with incumbents Bette Jane Kowalski, Sergio Granados and Rebecca Williams trouncing two Republican rivals, Peter Kane and Glenn Gelband, by about 20,000 votes. Republicans have not won a freeholder seat in Union County since 1998.
Likewise, incumbent Democratic surrogate James LaCorte clobbered Republican challenger Peter Lijoi.
In municipal elections, Republicans seemed to have held onto their only seat on the Cranford Township Committee. With 29 of 30 precincts reporting, incumbent Mary O’Connor received 3,391 votes, just behind Democrat Kathleen Miller Prunty’s 3,437, but just ahead of the other Democrat Brian Andrews’ 3,304. Besides O’Connor’s seat, candidates were looking to replace Deputy Mayor Ann Dooley, who did not seek re-election.
Elsewhere, in Roselle Park, preliminary results had former Marine and incumbent Republican William Fahoury beating Democrat Paul Baiamonte 335-218 for the 3rd Ward Council seat, but Democrat Michael Connelly was on only 19 votes ahead of Edmund Fahoury Jr. in the bid for the 4th Ward chair, 188-169.
In Berkeley Heights, the Republicans held both of their council seats with incumbent Manuel Couto and Gentiana Brahimaj defeating Democrats Julie Figlar and Rina Franchino by about 500 votes each.
Brahimaj held the spot occupied by Peter Bavoso, who did not seek re-election. With the mayoralty, Democrats will still hold a 4-3 advantage.
In Kenilworth, Democratic Councilwoman Linda Karlovitch was 12 votes ahead of Republican Salvatore Candarella in the race to replace Democratic Mayor Anthony DeLuca. Incumbent Democrat council members Kay Anne Ceceri and Mark David were 12 votes ahead of Republican challenger Scott Pentz and 23 votes ahead of his running mate Sean Pentz.
Republican Paul Mirabelli easily kept his mayor’s seat in Mountainside, defeating independent challenger Charles Coady Brown 1,338-497. Republicans also maintained their unanimous control of the council with Rene Dierkes keeping his seat, joined by Donna Pacifico, in defeating lone Democratic challenger Carlos Gomez for the two contested spots. Gomez came within 52 votes of Pacifico and was 100 short of Dierkes.
Pacifico will take the place of Glenn Mortimer, who did not seek re-election.
In Hillside, a declared non-partisan election where candidates run without affiliation, incumbents Andrea Hyatt, running under “The Right Choice” banner, and Gerald Pateesh Freedman, running under the “Fearless Leadership Fighting for Hillside” name, both held their seats for council. Hyatt defeated Renee Howard 406-332 for the 1st Ward seat while Freedman prevailed over Rayba Watson for the 4th Ward, 409-210.
They will return to council with Christopher Mobley and Donald DeAugustine, who ran unopposed under the “Fearless Leadership” banner.
Democrats kept their complete control of Springfield with Richard Huber and Mayor Erica Dubois both receiving about 2,000 votes more than Republicans Fred Scott and Geri Ann Kazimar, who drew about 1,300.
Union Democrats Clifton People and Suzette Cavadas, as expected, easily overwhelmed Kryzsztof Nowak and David Fitzpatrick, receiving more than twice as many votes as their Republicans opponents.