Two close races in Perth Amboy could be decided by the number of 168 outstanding cure letters that are returned by the November 18 deadline and the tightness of one city council race could force a postponement of the December 15 non-partisan runoff election.
Five city council candidates are in the mix to qualify for four runoff slots.
Mayor Wilda Diaz will face Councilman Helmin Caba, the Perth Amboy Democratic municipal chairman, in a runoff. Diaz is seeking re-election to a fourth term.
One of Diaz’s running mates, school board member Junior Iglesia, appears to have a lock on the first runoff slot. Iglesia was the top vote-getter on November 3, with 4,499 votes.
Four other council candidates are in range of qualifying for the other three runoff berths: Caba ally Rose B. Morales (4,405); Diaz-backed Bernadette Falcon-Lopez (4,316); Caba running mate Bienvenido “BJ” Torres (4,090) and Vanessa Bermudez (3,897), who ran with now-eliminated mayoral candidate Joseph B. Vas.
The other Vas-backed council candidate, Angel Mota Ramirez, has 3,494 votes and no path to the runoff. Neither do two other now-eliminated candidates: Terotha Frederick (1,087) and Doris Fonseca (1,027).
In the mayoral race, Diaz is running 491 votes ahead of Caba, 4,920 to 2,491 (33%-30%).
Vas, who polled a strong 3,600 votes (24%), is now a potential kingmaker in the runoff.
It’s not clear what direction he will go in.
“I haven’t made a decision yet,” Vas told the New Jersey Globe. “I decided to run because I didn’t think anyone was a change candidate. I’m proud of our campaign.”
Diaz ousted Vas’ father, who spent 18 years as mayor before Diaz defeated him in 2008.
Still, Diaz has never won re-election with more than 50% of the vote. She was at 39% in a six-candidate field in 2012, and 48% against three challengers in 2016.
Tied school board election
In a race for three seats on the Perth Amboy Board of Education, incumbent Lizette Lebron and Marisol Gonzalez are tied for third place with 4,098 votes each. Two other candidates are still in the mix: incumbent Dianne Roman (4,048) and Willie DeJesus (3,976).
Ronald Anderson, who ran on the building our future slate, appears to have locked in one of the seats with 4,366 votes Stacey Peralta, who ran on the Caba slate, is 146 votes behind Lebron and Gonzalez.
Lebron ran with Anderson and Roman, while Gonzalez ran with Peralta and DeJesus on a ticket allied with Caba.
These races are within the margin of cure letters.
There is no runoff in school board races.
With all vote-by-mail, provisional, and machine votes tallied, only the cure letters remain.
Cure letters are sent to voters whose mail-in ballots had potential defects, like unmatched signatures, offering an opportunity to repair the issue and have the vote counted.
Election officials are on an extraordinarily short runway to hold a December 15 runoff, even if the election is certified by Friday’s deadline.
They need to hold a drawing, print and mail ballots, install drop boxes, set up polling locations and get voters to cast another ballot in a 25-day period.
Now a possible recount challenge by Bermudez could delay the date of the runoff. The deadline to file a recount is Friday, the day Middlesex County election officials are expected to certify the results.
The recount could mean a hand count of more than 14,000 ballots over Thanksgiving week, but would almost certainly force a postponement of the December 15 election.
It’s not clear whether a judge would move the election to December 22, three days before Christmas, hold it between Christmas and New Year’s Day, or schedule a vote in January.
Either way, it seems unlikely that the election would be over this year.
Diaz’s term expires on January 1 and City Council President William Petrick would become Acting Mayor until the results of the runoff are certified.
Petrick would become Perth Amboy’s first white mayor since George Otlowski resigned in 1990.
Caba and Fernando Irizarry both gave up their city council seats to run for mayor. It’s possible that the city council would appoint the two as caretakers until the runoff is certified.