UNION COUNTY — After fighting off a residency challenge by a member of the Union County Regular Democratic party in court Monday, former Union County Freeholder Nancy Ward received the go ahead Tuesday to run off the line in the primary against state Senator Democrat Nick Scutari who has held the position since 2004.
“This is not only a victory for me but also the 22nd district voters who now have the opportunity to vote for the candidate of their choice,” said Ward late yesterday afternoon, after receiving the news from her attorney. Ward explained that Scutari, as far as she knew, never had anyone challenge him in a primary.
As for the Democrats making an issue of her residency in an effort to knock her off the primary ballot, Ward said she was confident from the start that she could prove that she lived in Linden.
“I walked into court confident, knowing I had my evidence in order and a witness that would testify on my behalf,” she added.
The primary candidate was pleased there was not a challenge to any of the 145 petition names she collected, pointing out that she walked the 3rd, 4th and 8th wards herself to collect the names. One hundred names are required to file a petition to run in the primary.
The hearing, held in Mercerville, resulted in Administrative Law Judge Joseph Martone dismissing the case shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday.
“This is one of the biggest accomplishments I have made,” said a jubilant Ward in a telephone interview Tuesday.
It took Regular Democratic Party members by surprise when Ward threw her hat in the ring for the Democratic primary in the 22nd legislative district. Especially since she went against her own political party.
Union County Freeholder Chris Hudak, a member of the Regular Democratic party, challenged Ward’s petition to run in the 22nd district, questioning her Linden residency.
Charlotte DeFlippo, Chairman of the Union County Democratic Party, said late last week she was taken back by Ward’s announcement that she would be challenging Scutari.
“As far as my knowledge, Nancy lived in Westfield,” she said, admitting that she was “very shocked,” by the former Democratic freeholder’s decision to run off the line.
“I don’t understand the rationale of running for senate. I’m perplexed,” Deflippo added.
Ward, who previously lived in Westfield, listed her address since September as an apartment on Academy Terrace in Linden. Hudak, however, maintained in his challenge that Ward never moved from Westfield, but merely rented an apartment in Linden so she could run in the primary.
The 22nd legislative district includes towns in three counties: Union, Middlesex and Somerset. In Union County the district covers the towns of Linden, Clark, Fanwood, Rahway, Plainfield, Scotch Plains and Winfield.
Ward was appointed by the freeholder board in October 2004 to fill an unexpired term, elected in 2005 and again in 2008. She decided not to run for re-election in 2011, citing increasing professional demands as an attorney in Westfield, in addition to growing family obligations.
The former freeholder specializes in workers compensation, landlord tenant law and cooperative housing law.
Scutari, from Linden, was elected to the state senate in 2003 to represent the 22nd district. A lifelong Linden resident, Scutari began his career in 1993 when he was elected to the Linden Board of Education. He then was elected to the freeholder board in 1996, and was the youngest person to ever serve as freeholder chairman in Union County.
As a state senator, Scutari spearheaded several initiatives benefiting both citizens in the 22nd district and the state as a whole. A strong advocate for insurance reform, he has sponsored legislation to create a more consumer friendly environment.
Scutari also took steps to ensure the safety and well being of children, sponsoring a bill requiring all wireless telephones and electronic communication devices used by public entities to be activated to receive Amber alerts. Scutari is a sponsor of “Stephen’s Law,” which would require the use of wooden bats in certain sporting events by anyone under the age of 18. In the senate, he serves as chairman of the senate judiciary committee, chairman of the space utilization committee and a member of the senate commerce committee. A practicing attorney, Scutari has an office in Linden and is member of the bar in both New Jersey and New York.
Ward said she did not decide to run in the primary against Scutari for political reasons. In fact, she has nothing but respect for the Democratic party that put her in a Union County freeholder seat from 2004 through 2011.
Ward’s decision to run off the line in the primary as an independent was based purely on seeing legislation enacted that would help gang members as well as work on other issues that will help seniors and residents of all ages.
Ward hopes to create legislation that would allow children to freely admit to the courts their involvement with gangs without fear that the admission would be used against them in the future.
During her tenure as a freeholder, Ward created and implemented the first countywide, permanent and long term gang and violence prevention program called “Christopher’s Program.” The program was the first of its kind to partner with the state court system to combat the growing epidemic of children in organized gangs.
Saying “this is the heart of why I am running,” Ward also noted in an interview with LocalSource Monday that “It’s time. I’m qualified and there are changes that must be made.”