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Former Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee. (Photo: South Orange-Maplewood Chamber of Commerce).

Ex-Maplewood mayor will run for State Assembly against organization-backed candidates

Frank McGehee launches off-the-line bid in 28th district

By David Wildstein, March 20 2023 6:40 pm

Former Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee has decided to mount an off-the-line bid for State Assembly in the 28th district, where Essex and Union Democratic organizations are backing incumbent Cleopatra Tucker (D-Newark) and Garnet Hall, the deputy county clerk.

The retirement of seven-term Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-South Orange) created an open seat, which party leaders quickly gave to Hall, the Maplewood Democratic municipal vice chair.

“Elections are about people and our power to make a difference.  And when we don’t vote, the things that matter stay the same, or get worse.  That’s why I’m running for Assembly,” McGehee said.  “My campaign is about creating change and new opportunities so all our communities can thrive.  It’s up to us.”

This primary will undoubtedly receive scrutiny by groups who filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging the constitutionality of organization lines.  Most renegade candidates are unelectable, which skews the won-loss record of off-the-line primaries; McGehee is a legitimate contender with a political base.

McGehee, 50,  was elected to the Maplewood Township Committee in 2016 and re-elected in 2019.  He served as mayor from 2020 to 2022, with the COVID-19 pandemic occupying much of his term.

His campaign will run solo, without a running mate for Senate and Assembly, or for county commissioner.

The campaign is not necessarily a contest between McGehee and Hall. The 79-year-old Tucker, an eight-term incumbent, has never run in Maplewood, South Orange, or Hillside, the lone Union County municipal in the 28th district. Maplewood and South Orange are potentially voter turnout machines, while Newark and Irvington have a more challenging time producing votes in an election.

Hillside, which holds non-partisan elections, has multiple factions.

Legislative redistricting moved Maplewood and South Orange from the 27th to the 28th, joining it with Irvington,  Newark’s South and West wards, and a few voters in the Central Ward.  The new 28th includes Hillside in Union County, where the Democratic organization voted today to give their line to the 63-year-old Hall.

The new 28th’s Black population is 68%, making it the Blackest district in the state and one of the most Democratic.  Gov. Phil Murphy won 92% of the vote in the new 28th when he ran for re-election two years ago.

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