Home>Campaigns>Donlon, Peterpaul defeat Houghtaling for Assembly nod in 11th district

Ocean Township Deputy Mayor Margie Donlon, left, and former Judge Luanne Peterpaul.

Donlon, Peterpaul defeat Houghtaling for Assembly nod in 11th district

Republicans flipped two Assembly seats in 2021

By Joey Fox and David Wildstein, February 04 2023 12:04 pm

In their bid to claw back two State Assembly seats they narrowly lost in 2021, Monmouth County Democrats have picked Ocean Township Deputy Mayor Margie Donlon and former Municipal Court Judge Luanne Peterpaul to run on the organization line in the 11th legislative district. They defeated former Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling (D-Neptune), who lost his seat in the last election, for the chance to take on two freshman Republican incumbents, Assemblywomen Marilyn Piperno (R-Colts Neck) and Kim Eulner (R-Shrewsbury) at a vote of Democratic county committee members today.  Donlan finished first with 221 votes, followed by Peterpaul, the former Garden State Equality chair, with 204, and Houghtaling at 74.  

Two other candidates, Colts Neck Democratic Municipal Chair Alison De Noia and restaurateur Arthur Schlossbach, dropped out of the race.

A total of 260 ballots from county committee members were received, and two were voided.  Not every voter cast two votes.  Donlan and Peterpaul will now run in the June primary election on the Monmouth County Democratic organization line with two-term Senate Majority Conference Leader Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch).

Democratic party leaders, including Gopal and Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr.,  the Long Branch Democratic municipal chairman, remained officially neutral in the race.

Houghtaling, a former Neptune Township mayor, won an upset victory in 2015, defeating Republican Assemblywomen Mary Pat Angelini (R-Ocean Township) and Caroline Casagrande (R-Colts Neck) by 496 votes on a ticket with Joann Downey (D-Freehold). He trailed Piperno by 781 votes and Eulner by 622. After winning decisive re-election victories in 2017 and 2019, Houghtaling finished fourth in 2021.

Houghtaling, the former Assembly Agriculture Committee chairman, has not said if he will run off-the-line in the Democratic primary.  Multiple Democratic county committee members who supported Houghtaling voted only for him.

Republicans still have not come up with a Senate candidate to take on Gopal in the politically competitive Monmouth County district.  It’s possible that Piperno or Eulner will jump to the Senate race.

Gopal won 52%-48% points in 2021 even though Gov. Phil Murphy simultaneously lost the 11th district by three points, making him the only Democratic legislator to win a district carried by Jack Ciattarelli. Since then, legislative redistricting made the district around one percentage point bluer – but it’s still likely to be hugely competitive this year.

“The work begins now to make sure we get the representation we deserve in Trenton,” stated Gopal. “I am excited to run with Margie and Luanne, because they represent the best of Monmouth County, and our priorities perfectly align. I know I can rely on them to help me fight for stronger public safety measures, make the right investments in programs and services, and best prepare Monmouth County and the State of New Jersey for the future.”

Donlon has served on the Ocean Township Council since 2019 when she was the top vote-getter in a nonpartisan race for five seats; notably, the slate she ran with was bipartisan. She’s also a physician specializing in pain management and would be the first female physician to serve in the legislature.

In 2017, Donlon ran for county freeholder, losing in a tight four-way race for two seats. Despite her countywide loss, Donlon and her running mate, now NJ Transit general counsel Brian Wilton, collectively won the new 11th district 55%-45%.

“We are humbled by the overwhelming support we received by the Monmouth County delegates and excited to get started,” Donlon said. “Our team, led by Senator Gopal, is the only one that wants to work across the aisle to promote civility and bipartisanship in order to invest in the future of Monmouth County families.”

Peterpaul hasn’t held elected office before, but she’s worked in various levels of government and advocacy for decades. In addition to serving as chair of the Garden State Equality board, she is a former prosecutor and was until recently a municipal judge in Long Branch and Asbury Park.

“I have dedicated my life to giving back to my community and fighting for fair treatment of all families in and out of the courtroom,” said Peterpaul. ” Now I am excited for the opportunity to continue doing so in Trenton with the support of the Monmouth County Democrats.”

If elected, Peterpaul would be the first openly gay woman to serve in the legislature – ever. (Former Assemblywoman Hazel Gluck only came out long after she had left the Assembly.) She’d also be the first openly gay Democrat to serve since 2018; the lone LGBT legislator at the moment, Assemblyman Don Guardian (R-Atlantic City), is a Republican.

This story was update at 12:31 PM with comment from Gopal, Donlon and Peterpaul. 



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