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Close race for Dems in 21st district

Three candidates lead field of 7 for chance to challenge Jon Bramnick, Nancy Munoz

By David Wildstein, February 22 2019 1:06 pm

It happens every winter.

Hugh Sinclair, the Democratic municipal chairman in Garwood (pop. 4,255), could be the deciding vote in the race for State Assembly in 21st district.

One year ago, Sinclair went into the Union County Democratic screening committee as the lone undecided voter in a congressional contest between Tom Malinowski and Linda Weber.  His gave Malinowski a 7-6 win for the organization line; Weber dropped out of the race and Malinowski was immediate able to focus Republican Rep. Leonard Lance.

Seven candidates are vying for the Union County Democratic organization line for the chance to take on Republican incumbents Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) and Nancy Munoz (R-Summit) in a district that has become competitive since it was drawn eight years ago.

Right now, it’s a three-woman race between Stacey Gunderman, Jill LaZare and Lisa Mandelblatt.

Each of the three appears to have five votes.

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden), the county chairman, has the authority to break a tie but prefers not to.  He’d like to see the screening committee produce two candidates without him.

Gunderman appears to have votes from Berkeley Heights, Cranford, Kenilworth, New Providence, and Westfield.

LaZare’s looks to have votes out of Garwood, Mountainside, Roselle Park, Springfield and Summit.

Mandelblatt seems to be getting her votes from Berkeley Heights, Cranford, Garwood, Kenilworth and Westfield.

Two other candidates might get votes: Carlos Gomez potentially has two – Mountainside and Roselle Park; and Goutam Jois may get a vote from Westfield.

It does not appear likely that Ileana Montes and Kyla Rodger have any votes on the screening committee.  Rodger is not expected to participate in the screening process.

Mandelblatt’s path to one of the seats goes through New Providence, where Gunderman is the municipal chair.

If Gunderman votes for Mandelblatt, she would have six votes.  That’s probably enough to win, although six doesn’t necessarily give a candidate a mathematical lock on a victory.

Gunderman could vote for LaZare, who tied her in an unofficial, quorum-lacking straw vote of New Providence Democrats on Tuesday.

But if she does, she risks losing a vote for herself in Westfield, Mandelblatt’s hometown.

While Gunderman has the power to move LaZare to six votes, the result could be moving herself to four.

That shift alone has the potential to end the race.

The greatest obstacle for LaZare is that she might be stuck at five votes.

If Springfield Democratic municipal chairman David Barnett gives his second vote to Gunderman, she would then be at six.

With Mandelblatt and Gunderman at six, LaZare’s path to a win is mathematically challenging.

LaZare needs Sinclair to drop her support of Mandelblatt to stay in the race.  She also needs Summit, Springfield and Roselle Park to not cast any votes for Gunderman or Mandelblatt.

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