Home>Campaigns>What’s in a name? For a Trenton candidate, that might be up to a judge

Former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Virginia Long Weiner. (Photo: Fox Rothschild).

What’s in a name? For a Trenton candidate, that might be up to a judge

Walter Gusciora serves as Trenton’s mayor, Ernest Garrett was a congressman, and Salvatore Cardinale spent nearly 40 years in the State Senate

By David Wildstein, December 08 2022 5:42 am

In a state where there is an active debate over identity politics, New Jersey has a long history of allowing candidates to go on the ballot with the name they use in professional circles.

That includes the recently re-elected mayor of Trenton, Walter Gusciora, who has appeared on the ballot using his middle name, Reed, since his first election to the State Assembly in 1995.  He’s registered to vote as Walter Reed Gusciora.

But may  a candidate use the name they identify in an election?

That’s a question Mercer County Assignment Judge Robert Lougy must wrestle with after Trenton city council candidate Damian Malave is mounting a last minute challenge to his opponent in next week’s runoff election being listed on the ballot as Jenna Figueroa Kettenburg.

Malave claims Figueroa is not her real name and that she’s just trying to pander to Hispanic voters in the South Ward, where 67% of residents are Hispanic.

How candidates choose to be listed on the ballot has been litigated plenty of times.

In 2006 an administrative law judge rejected a challenge to the nominating petition of Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Wantage) because his legal name is Ernest Scott Garrett.    Five years later the same GOP primary challenger tried the same thing against State Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R-Demarest), whose actual name was Salvatore Gerald Cardinale.

After Khemraj “Chico” Ramchal filed to run for Jersey City councilman in 2013, Mayor Jerramiah Healey unsuccessfully sought to force him to drop his nickname on the ballot.

“Everybody knows me by Chico,” he told the Jersey Journal.  “You could literally call my house, ask my father, ‘Is Chico home?’ or you could walk West Side Avenue and say, ‘Who’s Chico?’ — everybody’s going to tell you.”

Ramchal won a court fight.

In 2019, John Bravo sought the Democratic nomination for State Assembly in the 8th district as “Johnny Bravo.”  Despite sharing the name of a Cartoon Network character, he still lost his off-the-line bid by a margin of more than 4-1.

Figueroa Kettenburg’s attorney, Ted Maciag, referenced James Earl Carter’s candidacy for the presidency as Jimmy Carter in 1976.  Carter appeared on the ballot as Jimmy in 48 states and the District of Columbia, but as James E. Carter in Maine after a ruling by the Democratic attorney general.  Gerald Ford carried Maine by 4,041 votes.

There are plenty of other examples, but the one that could be most compelling to Lougy is the precedent set by the state judiciary.

Virginia Long was appointed to the Superior Court in 1978 after serving as Gov. Brendan Byrne’s Commissioner of Banking and was elevated to the appellate division.  Gov. Christine Todd Whitman nominated her to serve as an associate justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1999, where she served until reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2012.

She had initially served as a deputy attorney general and as Byrne’s state consumer affairs director (she replaced Millicent Fenwick after the 1973 election) under the name Virginia Long Annich but following her divorce and her 1976 marriage to Jonathan Weiner, she became known professionally as Virginia Long even though her legal name was Virginia Long Weiner.

One more bit of Virginia Long trivia: two Democratic state senators from Mercer County, Joseph Merlino (D-Trenton) and Anne Martindell (D-Princeton), used senatorial courtesy to stop Long from being confirmed as consumer affairs director for more than a year at the request of the Democratic county chairman, Richard Coffee.  Coffee, a former state senator who would later be greatly responsible for getting Byrne unexpectedly re-elected to a second term, was using Long as leverage to get Byrne to accept his pick for Mercer County Prosecutor.

Instead, Byrne made an end-run around the Senate by getting his attorney general, William Hyland, to name Long as an Assistant Attorney General and then assign her as acting consumer affairs director.

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