UNION COUNTY — The Democrats easily maintained control of the freeholder board on Election Day, although it had never appeared that their stronghold was ever in jeopardy this time around.
However, while some candidates at the local level easily won, there were major upsets in a few races that foreshadow considerable change for some towns.
Democrat Assembyman Joseph Cryan, who has served as acting sheriff since the death of Ralph Froehlich in July, soundly defeated challenger Michael Ince for the sheriff’s position by a margin of 54,249 votes to 34,807.
Cryan will now have to give up his 20th Legislative District Assembly seat at the end of the year because state law does not allow a person to hold two elected positions.
Another major upset occurred in Linden where two-term incumbent Mayor Rich Gerbounka lost his seat by slightly less than 400 votes to Democrat challenger Derek Armstead.
Gerbounka, who won a second term as mayor four years ago by a slim 200 votes when he went up against Armstead, did not fare as well this time around. The final unofficial tally came in with Armstead pulling 4,007 votes and Gerbounka 3,628.
Gerbounka’s running mate for city council president, Jacqueline Williams, also failed to garner voter confidence, pulling in just 1,250 votes compared to Democrat Jorge Alvarez, who received 3,628 votes to win the seat.
In Cranford, Republican incumbents Andy Kalnins and Lisa Adubato won a second term on the Township Committee, keeping political control on the governing body in Republican hands for another year.
The top vote getter in Cranford was Adubato, with 3,451 votes, Kalnins, 3,414 votes, while their Democratic challengers Brian McCarthy received 2,947 votes and Robert Salvatore, 2,734.
Union Board of Education
After a controversial and hard fought race by both Union Board of Education incumbents and challengers, in the end two newcomers were elected and just one incumbent was voted back in for a second term.
The top vote getter was challenger Ronnie McDowell, 2,722, and his running mate Nancy Zuena, 1,912 came in third, but good enough for a seat on the board. Incumbent Vito Nufrio received 2,065 votes.
After the final votes came in, Nufrio, said he was “grateful to voters who had the confidence to return him to the board for a second term.”
“I vow to serve the board, school district and town to the best of my ability,” he added.
After she won Zuena was elated, explaining that she won because of all the support from her family, friends and residents of Union.
“Now it’s time to get to work and get the politics out of the classroom and get back to the high performing district I remember as a graduate of Union High School,” she said, adding emphatically “Parents for Change, we did this!”
Winners Zuena and McDowell were on hand to greet voters earlier in the day at various schools, as was newcomer Christopher Hackett, staying 100-feet from the polling door, as required by law. However, throughout the day that was not always the case.
For example, at Battle Hill School in Union, school board member Rich Galante was handing out fliers for Democrat incumbents Perkins, Nufrio and Le, but a helper was at the door handing voters cards with details about their candidates. This is against election law.
However, Mayor Clifton People was a constant presence at Jefferson School throughout the day, greeting neighbors and friends as they came to cast their ballots.
“It’s a beautiful thing when you see this many people turning out to vote,” said the mayor.