Alleging that he was excluded from competing for the Mercer County Democratic line, a virtually unknown 24-year-old challenging Rep. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) in the Democratic primary will be in court today in a bid to force Mercer County Democrats to hold a do-over convention.
Reuven Hendler says he contacted Mercer County Democratic Chair Janice Mironov and the party’s executive director, Jason Salvatore, ignored his request to compete at the Democratic convention earlier this month.
In his lawsuit, Hendler claims that he notified Mironov by email on February 14, six days before the deadline, and spoke with Salvatore that day. He said he made numerous attempts to connect with party officials but was unsuccessful until March 4, when Mironov sent him an email.
“As communicated multiple times, candidates were required to submit a Letter of Interest by February 20, 2022, requesting to be considered for endorsement, with specified information,” Mironov wrote. “Regretfully, you are not among the candidates who will be considered for endorsement at the Mercer County Democratic Convention.”
A judge is set to hear the matter this afternoon.
Kim won the line by acclamation. No delegates attempted to place Hendler’s name into nomination.
“I’ve never even heard of this person before,” said Hamilton Mayor Jeff Martin. “Andy Kim has the full backing of Hamilton.”
Except for situations where reapportionment has forced two incumbents into the same congressional district, an incumbent congressman from New Jersey hasn’t lost a primary election since 1958.
Scott Salmon, the attorney representing Hendler, told the court that Mercer Democrats “should be required to redo their convention, at least as to the endorsement for New Jersey’s third congressional district and include (Hendler) as a candidate, which would permit him to speak to the convention and make his case for endorsement.”
In their court filing, Mercer Democrats said the Hendler is “claiming an intra-party dispute when none exists.”
“The instant action represents nothing more than a last-ditch 11th hour attempt by (Hendler), to obtain a do over of his own missteps in his attempt to secure the MCDC Democratic line,” said Daniel Antonelli, the attorney for the Mercer Democratic organization.
He said Hendler “cannot create his own immediate harm by filing at the 11th hour, and three weeks after he was told the Convention Committee met and he would not be considered for endorsement.”
“The New Jersey Supreme Court has cautioned courts to exercise judicial restraint and not interfere with an intra-party dispute,” Antonelli wrote.
Since Hendler is not a Mercer Democratic county committeeman, he lacks standing to challenge the convention results, Antonelli said.
Salmon said that Mercer Democrats didn’t cite any “law or precedent stating that Hendler must be a member of the county committee to have standing to challenge the county committee’s actions.”
“That is because none exists. Nor, in fact, could it since the county committee’s actions affect other parties than merely county committee members,” Salmon told the court in his filing. “When a candidate is denied the opportunity to screen for an ,endorsement through violations of the county party’s own procedures, that candidate unquestionably has a ‘sufficient stake and real adverseness with respect to the subject matter of the litigation.’”
In court filings made earlier today, Salmon said that unless Mercer Democrats want to “make the ticky-tack argument that this information must be included in a sealed and stamped envelope to constitute a ‘letter,’ the email meets all qualifications purportedly required.”
“It was clear to any reasonable person that Hendler wanted to be considered for the endorsement of the party at the convention,” Salmon wrote. “This Court should not condone this behavior and should therefore order that the convention be redone, at least as to this specific election.”