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Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, right, with former Gov. Brendan Byrne. (Photo: Team Fulop).

Eleven New Jersey mayor’s races to watch on Tuesday

By David Wildstein, November 02 2021 12:01 am

The most closely-watched mayoral race of 2021 is not even that competitive: Steve Fulop is the odds-on favorite to win a third term as the mayor of Jersey City against political newcomer Lewis Spears.  What’s at stake for Fulop is the size of his mandate, and more specifically, the number of seats his slate can win on the city council.  The 800-pound gorilla in the room is what Election Day 2021 means to Fulop’s possible, but unstated, gubernatorial ambitions in four years.

Hudson County Democratic Chair Amy DeGise is seeking an at-large council seat on Fulop’s slate, along with incumbents Joyce Watterman and Daniel Rivera.  They face Chris Gadsden (who lost a Ward B race four years ago), June Jones and Elvin Dominici on a slate allied with Spears.  Incumbent Rolando Lavarro, Jr., a former city council president who ran with Fulop four years ago, is seeking re-election on his own.

The premier race is in Downtown Ward E race, where incumbent James Solomon, a progressive leader and sometimes outspoken critic of the mayor, faces Fulop ally Jacob Hudnut, the municipal prosecutor.  Solomon beat Rebecca Symes in a runoff after finishing second in the November election.  Hudnut finished fourth in a six-candidate field.  A Solomon win will likely propel him into the 2025 mayoral race.

The other incumbents are running with Fulop:

In Ward A, Councilwoman Denise Ridley faces Kristen Zadroga-Hart, a former executive board member of the Jersey City Education Association.

In Ward B, Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey is being challenged by labor organizer and rent control advocate Joel Brooks.  He would become the first Socialist to win local office in New Jersey.

In Ward C, Richard Boggiano, a sometimes controversial two-term councilman who had feuded with Fulop before joining his ticket, is opposed by former Journal Square Kevin Bing and for Assistant Hudson County Prosecutor Tom Zuppa.

In Ward D, Councilman Yousef Saleh faces Danielle Freire and John Salerno.  Saleh won a 2020 special election to fill the seat of Michael Yun, who died of complications related to COVID-19.

In Ward F, Councilman Jermaine Robinson faces Vernon Richardson and Frank Gilmore, an education activist with a compelling life story.  Orphaned at age 13, Gilmore found himself in prison by age 19 and has now “dedicated his life to inspiring Jersey City youth through recreations.”

Jersey City’s charter requires candidates to receive 50% of the vote or face a December runoff.

Here are 10 other mayoral races the New Jersey Globe is watching:

Edison: This Democratic stronghold in Middlesex County has the most hotly-contested mayoral race in the state after a fractious primary election has led to a hugely competitive general election.  Sam Joshi, a councilman, faces Republican Keith Hahn, a former Democratic municipal chairman and Edison police officer.  Joshi won a resounding victory in the Democratic primary against Mahesh Bhagia, the Democratic municipal chairman and an alleged co-conspirator in an unsolved 2017 racist flyer incident. But Bhagia has refused to unite the party – specifically Edison’s South Asian community – and Hahn is in the running to become the first Republican since Thomas J. Swales was defeated by his brother-in-law, Democrat Anthony Yelencsics, in 1958.  (Another Yelencsics brother-in-law was the father of the current mayor, Thomas Lankey, who is not seeking re-election.)

Parsippany: Decades of infighting among Parsippany Republicans led to Democratic mayors for 33 of the last 55 years in a solidly Republican town that once provided huge pluralities for GOP candidates running statewide and in Morris County.  Democrats won the crown jewel of Morris County in 2017 when Michael Soriano ousted two-term Republican Mayor James Barberio.  After a tough primary with former Council President Louis Valori, GOP municipal chairman, Barbiero is now battling Soriano in a bid to reclaim his old job.

Monroe: Democrat Steven Dalina became mayor following the death of Gerald Tamburro on December 31 and now faces Republican Steve Martin in a race for the unexpired term.  Monroe is a rarity in New Jersey — perhaps the only large municipality in the state to trend from solidly blue to purple-emerging.    The township saw a spike in population over the last decade, up 24% to 48,594. Monroe swung Democratic as a result of a massive influx of senior citizens who began moving to the township in the late 1970s.  Now the township is seeing an increase in Republicans-leaning voters, many emigrating from Staten Island.  Martin said responsible for a number of posts potentially offensive posts, including one that uses images of a swastika and that someone hacked his Facebook account.  He said he’d never even heard of Josef Mengele.  Martin’s brother has been campaigning against him.

Westfield: The shine appears to come off Mayor Shelley Brindle, who ousted a Republican incumbent four years ago with 61% of the vote.  That doesn’t mean she won’t win against former Councilwoman JoAnn Neylan – Westfield has transformed from solid Red to solid Blue over the last decade – but a four-year record has tarnished her image a bit.  There’s no shortage of Democrats who think she’s a little self-absorbed — when Rep. Tom Malinowski, facing a tough re-election campaign bid next year, brought U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg into Westfield, she made it the “Shelley Brindle Show” – but those same Democrats might be just as happy to pawn her off on the Murphy administration – if there is a second term – and get her out of Union County.

Tinton Falls: Vito Perillo was born 43 days before Calvin Coolidge won the 1924 presidential election.  If 97-year-old mayor Perillo wins re-election, he’ll be 101 when his second term is over.  Four years after ousting incumbent Gerald Turning in the non-partisan election, Perillo faces three challengers who were all born well after he returned from World War II: Councilman Brock Siebert is 40, Michael Miles is 43, and Ellen Goldberg, the eldest challenger, is 59.

Hawthorne:  Republican Richard Goldberg isn’t seeking re-election after thirteen years as mayor – and after 24 years in local office. Republican John Lane, a councilman-at-large, and Democrat Joseph Wojtecki, a first ward councilman, are facing off against to succeed Goldberg.  The stakes are high because Hawthorne tends to keep their mayors around for a while: since 1947, when the venerable Louis Bay began a 40-year stint, the borough has had just six mayors.

Hillside: Dahlia Vertreese, a labor organizer for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 68, was elected mayor in 2017 in a runoff with Jorge Batista by just 28 votes after finishing second in a four-way November non-partisan election.  Most of Union County’s political elite, including State Sens. Joseph Cryan (D-Union) and Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden), and County Commissioner Angela Garretson – a former Hillside mayor — are backing Councilwoman Nancy Mondella against Vertreese.  A third candidate, Councilwoman Andrea Hyatt, is also in the race.

Atlantic City: Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small, Sr. is heavily favored to win his first full four-year term. He became mayor in 2019 after Frank Gilliam resigned following his arrest on charges that he stole $86,000 from a youth basketball league. He won 70% in a 2020 special election and defeated former Assemblyman Thomas Foley in the Democratic primary by a 2-1 margin in June.  Small faces Thomas Forkin, a former Atlantic City Democratic municipal chairman who is running as a Republican. Four independents are in the race, including Atlantic City Councilman Moisse “Mo” Delgado and talk radio host Jimmy Whitehead.

Aberdeen: Mayor Fred Tagliarini was appointed to the Aberdeen Township Council in 1995 but lost a Republican primary to fill the unexpired term.  Thirteen years later, when Tagliarini was appointed to another vacancy, he was a Democrat.  He was elected mayor the following year, 2009, by less than 400 votes.  The Republican candidate is William Sullivan, a corrections officer and the president of PBA Local 105, which represents about 6,000 correctional and probation officers.  Tagliarini was re-elected to a third term in 2017 with 63% of the vote; Sullivan lost a council bid that year.  Fun fact: before he retired, Tagliarini worked for the Staten Island Advance.

Brick: This is a classic “all politics is local” type of election – Donald Trump won Brick with 61%, but the Democratic mayor, John Ducey, won his first term eight years ago with 61% and was re-elected in 2017 with 66%.  He’s leveraged his personal popularity into an all-Democratic township council.  The Republican candidate is Theresa Gallagher, a political newcomer who runs an online bond trading company.

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