Senate Majority Conference Leader Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch) is taking sides in the race for an open State Assembly seat in the 16th district, endorsing former Montgomery Mayor Sadaf Jaffer for the Democratic nomination.
Jaffer is one of four Democrats vying for the chance to succeed Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick), who is giving up his Assembly seat to run for the State Senate. Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough) is seeking re-election to a third term.
“Mayor Jaffer will fight for economic development, access to health care, and infrastructure improvement,” Gopal said. “She will lead on the principles of economic justice, racial justice, gender justice, and environmental justice.”
The 16th district race has been in flux since Republican incumbent Christopher Bateman announced four weeks ago that he would not seek re-election.
Zwicker had been planning a Senate bid since last year, with or without Bateman in the race.
Somerset County Democratic Chair Peg Schaffer has opposed Zwicker’s ascent to the Senate, pushing for a senator from Somerset County who might give her senatorial courtesy over gubernatorial nominations.
Shaffer offered Zwicker the organization line if he moved to Somerset, but he declined.
Attorney Laurie Poppe, who came within 574 votes of ousting Bateman four years ago, is seeking a place on the 2021 ticket – either for Senate or Assembly.
Zenon Christodoulou, the party vice chair, is also interested in Senate or Assembly, but appears reluctant to pull the trigger and announce his candidacy.
Gopal, the only South Asian American in the Senate – and one of just two in the legislature – has been aggressively pushing for more Asian legislators in a state where more than 10% of the population are of Asian descent.
“Our voices and input were left out in the recent legislative discussions on cannabis and by adding a fourth Asian-American to the legislature, and the first woman, Mayor Jaffer would play a powerful role in shaping future public policy and in making sure all voices are included,” said Gopal. “Representation matters and she would be incredible role model for our young daughters and granddaughters as the first Asian American woman and first Muslim to serve in the New Jersey Legislature.”
Jaffer, Poppe and Christodoulou make up the list of Somerset Democrats seeking the Assembly seat.
There are two candidates from Princeton – Councilwoman Michelle Pirone and Dr. Chris Fistonich, a Yale-educated PhD immunologist, cybersecurity analyst and opera singer – and one from Hunterdon: Flemington Council President Caitlin Giles-McCormick.
Republicans are running Michael Pappas, a former congressman, for Senate, and with Hunterdon Central Regional Board of Education President Vincent Panico and Manville Councilman Joe Lukac for Assembly.
Gopal is also backing Anjali Mehrotra, the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) New Jersey, for State Assembly in the 21st district.
“Anjali’s voice for real policy changes will be imperative in moving district 21 forward,” he said.
Mehrotra, the Mountainside Democratic municipal chair, wants to take on Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Summit) and another Republican that has not yet been determined.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) is giving up his seat to run for the Senate.
In the 37th district, Palisades Park Mayor Christopher Chung is seeking the Democratic nomination for Assembly. If he wins, Chung will become the first Korean American from Bergen County to serve in the legislature, and just the second to ever serve. Kevin J. O’Toole became the first when he won an Assembly seat in 1995 and became the first Asian American senator in 2001.