Gov. Phil Murphy took sides in a contested Democratic primary for a ward council seat in Roselle and lost.
Murphy and Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver each recorded robocalls endorsing Roselle councilwoman Carla Walker in the June 5 primary. Walker, running on the organization line, lost by a wide margin – 62%-38% — to challenger Brandon Bernier.
Listen to Gov. Phil Murphy’s robocall for Walker.
Walker is a political ally of Assemblyman Jamal Holley, a former Roselle mayor with interesting political alliances. In Union County, Holley supported State Sen. Nicholas Scutari for Union County Democratic Chairman. Roselle delivered a 27-7 majority of county committee votes to Scutari in the February special election against Colleen Mahr.
Holley’s roadmap is complicated and his deal with Scutari, an ally of Senate President Steve Sweeney, may be limited to the political boundaries of Union County. In Trenton, Holley is on the outs with Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. He stuck with Vincent Prieto while Assemblywoman Annette Quijano and the late Assemblyman/Union County Democratic Chairman Jerry Green backed Coughlin.
Holley holds no leadership position in the Assembly and no committee chairmanship. Coughlin passed over Holley for Green’s post as head of the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee and picked Benjie Wimberly, who had also backed Prieto.
One insider with close ties to the governor who asked not to be identified suggested that Murphy’s Roselle endorsement was about his cultivation of Holley as a supporter from within the Assembly Democratic Caucus.
Holley could face a challenge next year in Roselle, when the county committee seat he controls will be up for grabs. Scutari is a loyal guy, so his Assembly seat is likely safe. But Holley needs to maintain control of his hometown Democratic organization if he wants a long-term political future.
Holley’s other candidate, councilman Samuel Bishop, also lost his primary. John Fortuna defeated him by a 54%-46% margin. Holley also played in Union Township, where he tried — without success — to take out State Sen. Joseph Cryan’s candidates for Township Committee in the Democratic primary.
For Murphy, the bigger issue is the perception that his endorsement couldn’t deliver more than 209 votes and a 21% voter turnout for Walker, a sitting councilwoman with the backing of her party organization. The governor is at risk of creating the perception that his endorsement in local races does not matter.
Listen to Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver’s s robocall for Walker.