Former Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee is exploring a bid for the open State Assembly seat in the 28th district, setting up a possible off-the-line Democratic primary challenge in a solidly-Democratic district.
Essex County Democrats have tapped Garnet Hall, the deputy county clerk and the Maplewood Democratic municipal vice chair, as their candidate to replace Mila Jasey (D-South Orange), a seven-term assemblywoman who is not seeking re-election.
“This open seat is a new opportunity for the residents in these municipalities to think critically about their candidates’ platform and track record before they cast their vote,” McGehee said. “I have taken some time to think about the people who live in our amazing communities. What I know for sure is that ensuring that the people have a voice is even more crucial now than ever.”
McGehee, a 50-year-old corporate marketing executive, was elected to the Maplewood Township Committee in 2016 and re-elected in 2019. He served as mayor from 2020 to 2022, with the COVID-19 pandemic occupying much of his term.
“Whether you’ve known me since we were growing up on the South side of Chicago from humble beginnings, or have gotten to know me over the last decade after my family and I moved to Maplewood, New Jersey, public service, backed by hard work, sacrifice, integrity and respect for others are deeply rooted in my family’s values and are core to who I am,” he said.
The exploratory phase of McGehee’s fledgling campaign will be short; the filing deadline is March 27.
“At this point, it’s just me trying to give people a choice,” McGehee told the New Jersey Globe.
So far, McGehee is running on his own, but has not ruled out teaming up with other candidates., saying that “options are open.”
The other incumbent, Cleopatra Tucker (D-Newark), 79, is seeking re-election to a ninth term in the State Assembly.
If he runs, the contest would not necessarily be McGehee vs. Hall. It’s possible that Tucker could be on the losing end of the political musical chairs game, depending on turnout in the June primary.
Maplewood and South Orange are potentially voter turnout machines, while Newark and Irvington have a tougher time producing votes in an election.
Legislative redistricting moved Maplewood and South Orange from the 27th to the 28th, joining it with Irvington, Newark’s South and West wards, and a tiny number of voters in the Central Ward. The new 28th includes Hillside in Union County, where the Democratic organization voted today to give their line to the 63-year-old Hall.
The new 28th’s Black population is 68%, making it the Blackest district in the state and one of the most Democratic. Gov. Phil Murphy won 92% of the vote in the new 28th when he ran for re-election two years ago.
“There is no shortage of pressing issues which are top of mind for so many of us, including but not limited to affordability, jobs, public safety, sustainability, reliable transportation, and infrastructure, access to healthcare, including mental health, and social justice and equity,” McGehee said. “We have so much to accomplish. And as always, you, the people, all play a critical role in shaping how we come together as a community to address these issues.”