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Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roger Bacon. (Photo: Zoom/NJ Globe.)

Judge looks ready to toss Bacon from Democratic primary ballot

Both Murphy primary rivals look to be in trouble, possible clearing the way for governor to run unopposed

By David Wildstein, April 12 2021 7:58 pm

Roger Bacon’s bid for the Democratic nomination for governor appears close to being over after an administrative law judge disqualified 305 of the 1,271 signatures he filed on nominating petitions on Monday, less than the 1,000 he needed to get on the June 8 primary ballot.

Judge JoAnn Candido says she will issue a decision on Tuesday, but strongly signaled her intent when she stopped the 5 ½ hour hearing around 7:30 PM without hearing another roughly 100 challenges prepared by Raj Parikh, the counsel to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee.

“We still have a substantial number of objections,” Parikh said.

Candido have Bacon a choice: he could withdraw his candidacy or await her written decision.

“I’ll just wait for your decision, your honor,” Bacon said.

Most of the rejected signatures came from registered Republicans ineligible to help Bacon get on the Democratic primary ballot.

Gov. Phil Murphy could wind up unopposed in his bid for renomination to a second term.

A ruling is also expected on Tuesday from another judge, Jeffrey Rabin, on a challenge to petitions filed by Lisa McCormick, a shadowy perennial candidate also seeking to take on Murphy.

While the challenge to Bacon’s signatures – all signed through the old-fashioned hand-signed method – was based on eligibility of the signers, the McCormick challenge is based on allegations of cheating.

Parikh alleged that McCormick’s petitions were entirely fraudulent, saying the candidate and her controversial life partner, James Devine, used a mail merge program to place names on petitions without the consent of the signers.

Several witnesses, including West Milford Democratic Municipal Chair Melissa Brown Blaeuer. Montclair Councilwoman Robin Schlager, and former Edison Demcoratic Municipal Chairman Shariq Ahmad, testified that although their names were listed as signatories, they never signed McCormick’s petitions.

Parikh and State Sen. Joseph Cryan (D-Union) have asked that McCormick’s petitions be referred to law enforcement for possible criminal intent.

If Bacon and McCormick are both tossed from the ballot, Murphy would become one of three Democratic governors to face no primary opponent in their re-election campaign.

Gov. Jim Florio narrowly avoided a primary challenge in 1989 when John Budzash, the leader of the grassroots Hands Across New Jersey group that opposed his $2.8 billion tax increase, arrived at the Secretary of State’s office just minutes after the filing deadline.

Gov. Robert Meyner had no primary opponent in 1957, while Richard J. Hughes (1965), Brendan Byrne (1977) and Jon Corzine (2009) faces primaries.

Bacon, a conservative Democrat, is making his sixth bid for public office and his second run for governor.

In 2009, Bacon was one of three Democrats who mounted primary challenges to incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine.  Corzine won 77% of the vote in that race, followed by former Glen Ridge Mayor Carl Bergmanson (9%), 9/11 conspiracy theorist Jeff Boss (8%), and Bacon (6%).

Corzine’s failure to get the votes of nearly one-in-four Democratic primary voters in a field where no candidate raised money or mounted any real campaign foreshadowed a problem he had within his own party, a factor that heavily contributed to his general election loss to Republican Chris Christie.

Bacon began running for office in 1992 as the Libertarian candidate for Congress in New Jersey’s 2nd district.  Rep. Bill Hughes (D-Ocean City) was re-elected that year by a 56%-41% margin against Assemblyman Frank LoBiondo (R-Vineland).  Bacon won 1% of the vote, finishing third in a five-candidate contest.

In 1993, he won 8% of the vote in a two-way State Senate race against incumbent Bill Schluter (R-Pennington).  Democrats did not nominate a candidate and Schluter won 92%.  As the Libertarian candidate against Rep. Marge Roukema (R-Ridgewood) in 1994, he won 1.5%.

Bacon lost a Republican primary for Conrgess against Roukema in 1996 – he won 6% — and a Democratic primary in the same district in 2008 for the chance to take on Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Wantage).

Taking on Garrett, who lost his seat to Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) in 2016, left Bacon with some regrets.

“We need a guy like that today,” he said.

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