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Judge opens a Pandora’s Box in filing NJ local government vacancies

Superior Court judge’s ruling in Linden could effect vacancies across New Jersey

By David Wildstein, February 16 2019 4:10 pm

A ruling by Superior Court judge Katherine Regan Dupuis that refused to immediately order the seating of a Linden councilman-elect could have a ripple effect throughout the state, especially in a municipality where a majority party decides to simple not fill a vacant seat held by the minority party.

That’s the deal right now in Roseland, where a Democratic-controlled council is mulling replacement candidates offered by the local Republican organization.

In Livingston, where Pat Sebold has been the Democratic municipal chair for more than 40 years, filling a recent vacancy on the township council went smoothly.  The county committee submitted three names to the all-Democratic council, who interviewed the candidates and decided they didn’t want to choose between a bunch of candidates they all liked.

Sebold understands New Jersey election law as well as anyone – she filled council vacancies in 1978 and again in 2008 – so she held a meeting of the county committee to select a new councilman.  They picked Michael Vieira, who will be sworn this month.

It was seamless.

So was Emerson, where filling the council seat Danielle DiPaola left open when she became mayor, followed the usual process.  The county committee sent three names to the council in January and they picked one of them.

The same thing happened last month in Palisades Park, where Andy Min now holds the council seat left vacant when Christopher Chung became mayor.

In Delran, where councilman Dan O’Connell stepped down this month to become a Burlington County freeholder, the process a generation of political leaders are accustomed to was used to seat Thomas Lyon to replace him.

Every year, municipalities fill a double-digit number of vacancies throughout New Jersey using a succession law that has been around for more than a generation.

Right now, Roseland is now in the process of filling a vacant borough council seat.

Richard Leonard, who has held local office for most of the last 44 years, resigned his seat on the borough council last month after pleading guilty charges to criminal charges.

Since Leonard was a Republican, the local GOP county committee submitted three names to the council for consideration: Jean Perrotti, Jane Raso, and Aristotle Popolizio.  The three were organization candidates last year who narrowly  lost the Republican primary.

Before Leonard’s departure, the borough council had three Democrats and three Republicans. Now it’s a 3-2 Democratic majority, with a Democratic mayor.

The council can now pick one of the three names or return the decision back to the Republican county committee and let them choose.

It is assumed that Republicans want to replace Leonard with someone who can run for a full term in November 2019 in a municipality that is politically competitive.

Republican Michael Pacio, a former mayor, came within 220 votes of winning the 2018 mayoral race, even with another Republican running as an independent winning 903 votes.  Former councilman John Derites land Patricia Braga lost by 176 and 217, respectively; independents received more than four times the Democratic margin of victory.

So Dupuis’ hesitation in the Linden case could be a game changer in Roseland.

It could give Democrat the option of following Linden mayor Derek Armstead’s playbook and just let Leonard’s seat remain vacant until January.

That would prevent Republicans from running an incumbent in the next election.

This is the opening Dupuis appears to be creating.

The Linden Democratic organization submitted the names of Paul Coates and two others to the city council as replacements for Michele Yamakaitis, who left her 8th ward seat on January 1 to become the new council president.

But mayor Armstead, who doesn’t get along with the county committee, refused to accept any of the choices.  He said he wants the seat to remain vacant until a November special election.

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One thought on “Judge opens a Pandora’s Box in filing NJ local government vacancies

  1. In this instance, the judge’s decision is absolutely wrong.

    Donald Katz
    Counsel – Middlesex County Republican Organization

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