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Democratic congressional candidate Brian Varela. (Photo: Brian Varela).

Varela booted from Democratic primary ballot in NJ-8

Underdog candidate submitted 589 signatures, but enough ruled invalid to bring total below 200

By Joey Fox, April 12 2022 3:43 pm

After a marathon 16-hour hearing that stretched across two days, an administrative law judge has determined that entrepreneur Brian Varela does not have enough valid signatures to be a Democratic candidate in the 8th congressional district.

Varela originally submitted 589 signatures, well above the 200-signature threshold and a total that would usually be enough to dissuade any challenges. But Hudson County Democratic chairwoman Amy DeGise argued that hundreds of those signatures were invalid, and Judge Joann Candido ultimately ruled that Varela only had 181 valid signatures.

“I know that there are organizations out there that are absolutely not in favor of people like myself running,” Varela said after it was clear he had fallen short of the signature requirement. “We are here to stay; I will be coming back, and I will be coming back stronger with more experience. This is not my last day in this field.”

DeGise was represented in the matter by high-powered election attorney Steven Kleinman, while Varela was represented by Flavio Komuves, who frequently takes on cases for progressive candidates.

A large number of Varela’s signatories were disqualified because they lived on the wrong side of Kearny, which is split between the 8th and 9th congressional districts. Varela acknowledged the mistake on Twitter, writing that the petition challenge process “has been a great learning lesson for me and my team.”

Varela isn’t the only candidate DeGise and the Hudson Democratic organization has worked to kick off the ballot in the 8th district. Seton Hall law professor Eugene Mazo, whose campaign seems primarily designed to test the state’s ballot-access laws, faces a hearing on his petitions today at 4 p.m.

The chosen 8th district candidate of the Hudson Democratic Party, and the state Democratic establishment in general, is Port Authority Commissioner Rob Menendez, the son of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez. The younger Menendez established himself as the frontrunner for the nomination in the heavily Democratic district within just days of the news that Rep. Albio Sires (D-West New York) would retire.

With Varela off the ballot and Mazo potentially facing removal as well, Menendez may have just two opponents in the Democratic primary: healthcare startup director David Ocampo Grajales and Amistad Commission member Ane Roseborough-Eberhard.

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