UNION COUNTY — On Oct. 28, the League of Women Voters had hoped to present a candidates forum and debate between the Republican and Democratic candidates for Union County Freeholder and Union County Sheriff seats, but due to circumstances beyond their control, the debate was called off last week.
“The League of Women Voters of the Union Area has been forced to cancel the annual Union County candidates debate this year,” the group said in a release. “The stumbling block was difficulty in getting approvals from both political parties, which is required by League rules for any such event.”
This year’s election will feature many familiar names on the ballot for freeholder and sheriff. Republican challenger Mark Martini will once again face off against three Democratic incumbents: Angel Estrada, Christopher Hudak and Vernell Wright. Acting Union County Sheriff and Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, who replaced the deceased Ralph Froehlich, is being challenged for the sheriff’s position by newcomer Michael Ince.
According to the release, the cancellation of both the freeholder debate and the sheriff’s debate was twofold. First, League members “attempting to arrange the debate were unable to reach the sole Republican candidate for the board, Mark Martini.”
The release goes on to say that Martini was “reportedly out of the country when the event was being set up and did not respond to the invitation sent out by the League,” the release said.
LocalSource reached out to Martini, but he could not be reached by presstime.
The League was also forced to cancel the debate between sheriff candidates as a result of Martini’s absence, albeit quite indirectly.
“Democratic party officials would not agree to a debate for sheriff only, insisting that the freeholder and sheriff candidates are running as a slate and would appear only if all four were included in the event,” stated the release from the League.
When pressed for additional comment, Michele Cerrato Mannino, a representative of the League of Women Voters of the Union Area, put it more bluntly.
“The Republicans were responsible for not having the freeholders debate. We needed both parties,” she said. “The Democrats, on the other hand, because we were not having the freeholder forum, they were not going to participate in the sheriff debate. Our job is to present the candidates and their views so the voters can make an informed decision. Unfortunately, after all the hard work we did, that never happened.”
LocalSource reached out to both candidates for sheriff. Cryan, the acting sheriff, deferred to Democratic party bosses in Union County, and simply said “My understanding is that the League cancelled the debate,” but he did express a willingness to debate his challenger.
Assemblyman Jerry Green, chairman of the Democratic Party of Union County, did not respond to a request for comment by presstime.
Cryan’s challenger, Ince, had much more to say on the subject.
“I was told that because the Republican candidate for freeholder was not going to participate, based on that, the Democrats held out. If everyone wasn’t going to participate, they weren’t going to participate,” said Ince. “The Democrats decided they weren’t going to take part at all.”
Ince went on to say he was definitely ready for the debate.
“From my perspective, I don’t see much of a connection between the freeholders debate and the sheriff’s debate. I was all set. I was preparing to take part,” he said. “I just get the sense that the Democrats think they can basically win without doing a whole lot. That’s the feeling that we have, because they haven’t really been out there aggressively campaigning.”
The election is Tuesday, Nov. 4.