Today is primary day in New Jersey. Here’s a rundown of the contested seats, including my picks for most intriguing match-up and likeliest upset, plus a non-legislative race worth watching.
Turnout should be about 7% – somewhere between 350,000 and 370,000 voters. While that may seem low, consider that there is little reason for most voters to show up. Of the 240 legislative nominations available, only 31 challengers are running against the party organizations’ picks. This includes just 9 Senate seats and 15 Assembly districts (excluding the Democratic challenger in the 7th who has withdrawn, but whose name will appear on the ballot).
Here’s my run-down.
Most Watched Primary – District 20 (D)
Democrats for Change, an organization affiliated with the Elizabeth School Board has fielded a full slate of challengers in the Democratic primary, Jerome Dunn for Senate and Tony Monteiro and Carlos Cedeno for Assembly. Some say Governor Christie is tacitly backing this challenge. While he may be just a teensy bit ambivalent about Senator Ray Lesniak, he’d be extremely happy to see Assembly Majority Leader and former state Democratic chairman Joe Cryan go down. The NJEA has targeted Lesniak over his support of school vouchers, but are not going after the Assembly incumbents (Cryan and Annette Quijano).
One thing that hasn’t been mentioned in this race is the impact of redistricting. While this district remains solidly Democratic in the new map, the addition of Hillside has increased the black population of this district from 27% to 31% 43% (the Hispanic population went from 43% to 41% 38%). There are no African-Americans on the incumbent slate, while the Senate challenger is. The Hillside mayor has endorsed the challengers. While this race is competitive and well-funded on both sides, I see the incumbents staving off the challenge.
Most Intriguing Matchup – District 33 (D)
Hudson County and political intrigue are synonymous. Senator Brian Stack has long been a thorn in the side of the Hudson County Democratic Organization. His alliance with Governor Christie is considered to be one of the main reasons that the Republicans failed to get their legislative map during redistricting (i.e. they insisted on sending Bayonne into a district with Newark in order to protect Stack, even though tie-breaker Alan Rosenthal made it clear that he wouldn’t agree to any district split by a large body of water).
One Assembly seat opened up with redistricting. Stack and the HCDO agreed to a compromise candidate, Jersey City Police Detective Sean Connors. This selection was a bit of payback. Connors had challenged Senator Nick Sacco in the 32nd district in 2007, expecting Stack would support him in a challenge for the Freeholder board the following year. Instead, Stack decided to make peace with the HCDO and Connors was left out in the cold.
Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, another pro-Christie/anti-HCDO Democrat, now feels that she is getting the cold shoulder from the HCDO (and the intrigue is upped by a reported IT security breach at City Hall). She is supporting her Council colleague, Ravi Bhalla, in a one-man challenge to Connors. (The other candidate is incumbent Ruben Ramos, another Hobokenite.)
Stack’s comments about this challenge have been lukewarm – he wished Zimmer could support the ticket, but understands her decision – suggesting that he may be okay with either Connors or Bhalla as his running mate in November. My pick is that Connors wins.
Likeliest Upset – District 27 (R)
One of the more fascinating storylines of this year’s redistricting process was what would happen to former Senate President and Governor Dick Codey. Early speculation was that both Democrats and Republicans would look to put him in a less friendly district. In the end, his district picked up a few GOP-leaning towns in Morris County, but remains a comfortable win for him in November.
This explains why Republican Party leaders could not recruit a real heavy hitter to take on Codey. They settled on Essex Fells Councilman William Sullivan. However, he has a challenge from Tea Party candidate Bill Eames, who has raised a bit of money. While the addition of the Morris towns to this district will not hurt Codey much, they do pose a problem for the Republican organization candidate in a primary (Morris does not confer party lines on the ballot). Moreover, Eames has been endorsed by the North Jersey Tea Party group, who also endorsed the popular Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll in the neighboring 25th district. I’m going out on a limb and picking Eames in the upset here.
Bad Blood Award – District 25 (R)
Senator Tony Bucco faces a challenge from Morris Freeholder Director – and Wharton mayor – and public school teacher – William Chegwidden. Their feud is partly based on Bucco’s decision to back his own son for an open Assembly seat in 2009 over other candidates waiting in the wings. Chegwidden has taken the slight to an all out challenge. He will lose (as will John Siercho, who is running independent of Chegwidden for an Assembly seat against incumbents Carroll and the younger Bucco).
Bizzare Resume Award – District 1 (R)
A full slate of challengers is being led by Thomas Greto for Senate, joined by Peter Boyce and Paul Halley for Assembly. Greto ran for state legislature once before. But it was in Pennsylvania in 1994. And his campaign was cut short by his arrest and a jail term for deceptive business practices. According to reports, Greto also declared bankruptcy in 2008. He is running on a platform to “get businesses going and growing.”
Aside from the, er, interesting resume of the senate candidate, this race is the first real test of party discipline for Cape May County GOP Chair Michael Donohue. [The district includes a large portion of Cumberland County as well as a few Atlantic towns, but is considered mainly a Cape May district.] Donahue himself ran for Assembly a few times and was unhappy with the party support in those races, so he ran a slate of Freeholder challengers in last year’s primary. His candidates won and he subsequently took over the reins of the county party.
Donahue has fielded a decent slate of candidates – former municipal judge David DeWeese for Senate, Cumberland County Freeholder Sam Fiocchi and Stone Harbor Mayor Suzanne Walters for Assembly – although they have yet to raise any significant money. He is looking for a big win in this primary to cement his leadership. But since this tends to be one of those politically interesting pockets of New Jersey, it’s not clear how big a win it will be
Other contested races:
District 2 (D) – Perennial candidate Gary Stein (governor, Congress) will lose to party-endorsed Alisa Cooper and Damon Tyner.
District 5 (R) – On the Senate side former Camden city administrator Keith Walker has the line against George Gallenthin, whose business property was recently the subject of an eminent domain attempt. On the Assembly side, William Levins and Ari Ford have the line against perennial off-the-liner Donna Ward. The party-endorsed candidates should win easily, but no one really cares since this is Norcross territory come November.
District 7 (R) – Senator Diane Allen faces a familiar challenger from the right, Carole Lokan-Moore. Allen beat Moore 83% to 17% in the 2003 primary. Take the over at 60 points this time around.
District 14 (R) – Robbinsville Mayor Dave fried and former Cranbury Mayor Wayne Wittman will see off a challenge from jewelry store owner Bruce MacDonald.
District 16 (R) – There are no challenges here. But since incumbent Denise Coyle pulled out of the race without setting up a Committee for Vacancies, the party finds itself short a candidate in this GOP stronghold. They are asking Republican voters to write in Somerset Freeholder Jack Ciattarelli (not an easy thing to do, since I just had to look up the spelling of his last name myself).
District 27 (D) – Former Millburn Councilwoman Ellen Steinberg is running off the line for Assembly. Millburn used to be in the GOP-lock 21st district, where Steinberg ran on the line for Senate in 2001 and successfully off the line for Assembly in 2003. She will not be able to repeat history against incumbents John McKeon and Mila Jasey.
District 28 (D) – Incumbents Cleopatra Tucker and Ralph Caputo (who moved hometowns after redistricting in order to stay in the Assembly) should easily see off a challenge by Michael Frazzano.
District 31 (D) – Senator Sandra Bolden Cunningham will see off restaurateur Bruce Alston
District 32 (D) – Nick Sacco easily defeats 9/11 conspiracist and perennial candidate Jeff Boss for Senate, while mortgage broker Francisco Torres fails in his Assembly challenge.
District 35 (D) – Redistricting opened up two Assembly seats in this Democratic-lock district. The party nods went to Paterson Councilman Benjie Wimberly and Shavonda Sumter, who ran Jeff Jones successful bid to unseat two-term mayor Joey Torres last year. Torres brother, Samuel, is hoping to exact some revenge in an off the line challenge. He won’t.
Districts 34/35/38/40 (R) – I’ve lumped these districts together. GOP Strong, a Passaic based dissident organization, is running Assembly slates in these four districts along with a Senate candidate in the 38th. This feud goes back to 2006, when now-Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-40) wrested control of the scandal-plagued Passaic County GOP from allies of former chair Peter Murphy. The grudge continues to this day. The 38th race also features a perennial candidate Wojciech Siemaszkiewicz (who, fortunately, is not a write-in). In all four districts, the party line candidates will win.
Non-Legislative Race to Watch – Gloucester County Freeholder (R)
The Republicans have made some noise recently in Gloucester County, considered to be under the political control of the Camden County/Norcross Democratic machine. The biggest surprise was Governor Christie’s win here in 2009. This was followed by a gain of two Freeholder seats in 2010, after what had been a decade of total Democratic control. However, the county GOP has had some problems with discipline. Their picks for the 3rd legislative district in 2009 lost to two Tea Party candidates in the primary. The party basically disowned one, Lee Lucas, due to extreme views. The other, Bob Villare, is the organization endorsed candidate this time around.
In this year’s freeholder race, there is a very competitive primary which is a proxy battle for party leadership. Incumbent Assemblyman Domenick DiCicco has sided with the dissident faction against county chair Bill Fey’s slate. DiCicco scored a surprise victory in 2009 on Christie’s coattails, but faces an uphill battle to retain his seat due to redistricting. Could he be positioning himself for a post-legislative position? And is the Gloucester GOP in resurgence or was 2009/2010 just a blip? This one bears watching.