UNION COUNTY, NJ — Embattled 22nd District Assemblywoman Linda Stender surrendered to public and political pressure last week, announcing she would not seek re-election this fall after it became apparent she was involved with trying to get a non-profit to rebuild a shore home owned by her husband.
Stender, recently appointed assistant director of the Union County Improvement Authority at an annual salary of $90,000, previously served as a Fanwood council member and mayor, Union County Freeholder and over the last decade, democrat assemblywoman for the 22nd legislative district.
This district includes the Union County towns of Rahway, Clark, Linden, Fanwood, Scotch Plains, Plainfield and Winfield. It also includes towns in Middlesex and Somerset counties.
The announcement came on the heels of Union County Democratic Chairman Jerry Green saying he would not support her re-election, which means Stender would not be getting the party line come November.
Stender’s brief statement said little about the ongoing controversy that surfaced several weeks ago over the Manasquan shore home owned by her husband, Richard. He sought and received financial aid from the nonprofit Coastal Habitat for Humanity to knock down the $465,000 shore home that sustained damage from Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.
At issue is whether the assemblywoman was involved in getting the non-profit to rebuild a more luxurious two-story home. She continued to deny any involvement until late last week when both the director of the non-profit and architect designing the new shore home said she participated.
The matter has now been handed over to the state attorney general’s office for investigation.
Despite this and what the non-profit said in a statement, it was not until Green said he would not be giving her the party line that Stender quickly followed with her announcement.
“Over the last several days it has become apparent that personal issues involving my family and a non-profit group have become an insurmountable distraction for me, to my running mates and, most importantly, to the constituents I have been proud to represent for more than a decade,” said the assemblywoman, adding “as a result I have decided not to seek re-election.”
Stender did not mention the decision was the result of being pushed out of the democratic fold she has been an integral part of for the last 20 years.
It was evident last week Green needed more proof that Stender herself was involved with her husband Richard’s efforts to obtain additional help from the non-profit that helps families who are making 80 percent of $84,526, the median income in Monmouth County.
According to information obtained by LocalSource from the assemblywoman’s legislative disclosure forms, jointly the couple made close to $100,000 in 2012 and 2013, higher than the income required by the nonprofit. This included the $49,000 a year Stender earns as an assemblywoman.
Despite this, Stender’s husband applied to Coastal Habitat For Humanity to have the close to half-million dollar Manasquan home demolished. He also signed a promissory note to repay the $11,000 cost to the non-profit. To date, the non-profit said, he has not repaid any of the cost to tear down the shore home.
At issue is whether Stender’s husband reported his actual income to the non-profit as a married couple. The assemblywoman initially said she had nothing to do with what her husband did involving the shore home, explaining she lived with her elderly mother in Scotch Plains.
However, that later was discounted by Coastal Habitat for Humanity who said they met with both the Stender’s in August, after the house was torn down, regarding the building of the much larger two-story, luxurious home.
Stender, though, continued to maintain she had nothing to do with the project until Architect Michael De Biasse confirmed he designed the proposed house plans and Stender was involved.
“I dealt with both of them, but I dealt with Richard a lot,” said Biasse.
Politically this leaves an open spot on the ballot, one that party members continue to buzz about.
According to Democrat Party sources, former Rahway mayor Jim Kennedy has the support of Green and enough support from the other towns in the district to get the line. However, Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr remains a political dark horse in the mix.
Mahr is a close ally of former 20th district assemblyman and current Union County Sheriff Joe Cryan.
Late last week when asked, Cryan referred all questions involving who is likely to get the party line to Green, noting he was not involved in this issue.