LINDEN, NJ — Mayor Derek Armstead has replaced state Sen. Nicholas Scutari as the chairman of the local Democratic Committee, ousting the longtime incumbent by seven votes in the latest battleground between the two rivals.
Armstead prevailed 39-32 over Scutari in a balloting of Linden Democratic Committee members on June 10, one day before Scutari retained his leadership of the Union County Democratic Committee, running unopposed in a gathering at Kean University.
Scutari said he wishes Armstead the “best of luck” as Linden Democratic Committee chair in a phone interview with LocalSource on June 13.
“I’ve already expressed … that if there’s anything I can do to help him in that endeavor that I will work with him. I think that’s important in a civilized and democratic society that we have a smooth transition,” he added.
Armstead did not return multiple requests for comment.
Scutari will have a new vice chairperson as Assemblywoman Linda Carter ran unopposed to replace Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, who did not seek reelection.
“I’m pleased with the outcome and I look forward to working with other members of the committee to strengthen our party and bring it together as we move forward,” Scutari, adding about Carter, “I couldn’t ask for a better No. 2.”
At the June 11 meeting, Scutari said he acknowledged Armstead and told the gallery they will be working together to better Linden.
Scutari and Armstead have been at odds for more than a year. The schism was created in February 2018 when longtime Assemblyman and Union County Democratic Chair Jerry Green resigned the county post, and Armstead backed Mahr over Scutari in the election to replace him.
Scutari retaliated by giving the endorsed line in last year’s Linden mayoral primary to Gretchen Hickey over the incumbent Armstead. After winning the primary and election, along with several allies who won council seats to make for an Armstead majority, the mayor earlier this year replaced Scutari as Linden’s municipal prosecutor, a position he’d held for more than 16 years.
Scutari subsequently introduced what he called “Derek’s Law,” a bill conditionally vetoed by Gov. Phil Murphy, that passed both the state Assembly and Senate. The measure would have forced Armstead to give back a retroactive $26,575 raise he received in December after the council increased the mayor’s salary to $100,000, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018. The legislation would have prohibited retroactive raises for all elected officials throughout the state.
Scutari told LocalSource that challenging Murphy’s decision is still under consideration but that he’s confident it can be done.
“I am confident that if we wish, we have more than enough votes to override that conditional veto. I am 100 percent confident that we have that. It hasn’t been something we decided on yet but clearly, we can make something happen,” he said.