Ileana Montes, a former director of the New Jersey Division on Women under Gov. Jon Corzine, is seeking the Democratic nomination for State Assembly in the 21st district.
She is the latest entrant into a crowded field of Democratic candidates seeking to challenge incumbents Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) and Nancy Munoz (R-Summit).
Last year, Montes ran as a write-in candidate for the Mountainside Borough Council when the Dildogate scandal broke after the filing deadline. She lost by 77 votes to incumbent Robert Messler.
With the district becoming politically competitive in recent years, Democrats think they have a shot at picking up Assembly seats in a district that they haven’t won since the 1980’s.
The 21st now has 3,607 more Democrats than Republicans, a significant shift since legislative redistricting eight years ago. In 2011, the 21st had 4,357 more Republicans than Democrats.
Bob Menendez won the district by 837 votes over Bob Hugin in the 2018 U.S. Senate race, while Democratic candidates for Congress carried the 21st by 12,460 votes. In 2017, Phil Murphy won the district by 1,503 votes.
Donald Trump lost the district by 19,759 votes in 2016; Mitt Romney won by 9,614 in 2012.
Bramnick has seen his total number of votes decline.
At the same time, Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr. (R-Westfield) had little trouble holding the State Senate seat in the same district. Kean was re-elected in 2017 by 6,456 votes. He received 2,296 more votes than Bramnick.
In mid-term elections, he has gone from 27,322 in 2007 to 25,303 in 2011 to 20,024 in 2015. In gubernatorial years, Bramnick has dropped from 45,439 in 2009 to 38,556 in 2013 to 34,283 in 2017.
Democratic insiders say that the leading candidates for the nomination are former congressional candidates Lisa Mandelblatt and Scott Salmon, and New Providence Democratic Municipal chair Stacey Gunderman.
Mandelblatt and Salmon sought the Democratic nomination to run against Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton) last year — each raised more than $100,00 in their short bid for a House seat 00 but dropped out before Union County Democrats voted to support Tom Malinowski (D-Rocky Hill). Both played a key role in Malinowski defeat of Lance.
Carlos Gomez, an EMT with the Elizabeth Fire Department and a realtor at Keller Williams, ran for councilman in Mountainside in 2017. He is plugged in to the state’s first responder community and could attract contributions from firefighter and police unions in an Assembly bid.
Another Assembly aspirant, Goutam Jois, also ran for Congress in 2018. He remained in the race after losing conventions or screening committees in six counties and won just 14% of the vote against Malinowski in the Democratic primary.
Jill LaZare, who lost races for Assembly in 2013 and 2015 and for State Senate in 2017 when Kean smoked her by ten percentage points, is also seeking party support for another Assembly bid.
Montes served as director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Office for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and as president of the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey. In 2012, she was a member of the Electoral College.