Home>Feature>Johnson takes district 37 primary, defeating Vainieri Huttle

Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood.)

Johnson takes district 37 primary, defeating Vainieri Huttle

Assemblyman expected to sail through general election in overwhelmingly Democratic district

By Nikita Biryukov, June 08 2021 8:58 pm

Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Englewood) defeated Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood), become the first candidate to oust an incumbent Tuesday night.

The contest to succeed Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) grew increasingly acrid as primary day drew closer.

Johnson and his running mates, Tenafly Democratic Municipal Chair Shama Haider and former Englewood Cliffs Councilwoman Ellen Park, were most often content to ignore their primary opponents and lean on the power of the Bergen County Democratic Committee, which awarded the assemblyman the party line.

Vainieri Huttle’s campaign stuck to the offensive as much as it could, attacking Johnson over an accusation that said he made inappropriate comments to an Englewood woman in 2008 and claiming Johnson was awarded the county line in a rigged process. Bergen County Democratic Chairman Paul Juliano denied the claim.

Though she hedged when asked whether she would run on organizational lines in the future during a debates sponsored by the New Jersey Globe, Vainieri Huttle later said she backed ending the practice, which progressives have argued lends an unfair advantage to incumbents and county-backed candidates.

The assemblywoman and her running mates, Teaneck Councilwoman Gervonn Romney Rice and Tenafly Councilwoman Lauren Kohn Dayton, outpaced their rivals in fundraising, though Johnson’s campaign got a boost from an outside group with ties to South Jersey powerbroker George Norcross.

American Democratic Majority, the super PAC, launched ads attacking Vainieri Huttle over her opposition to a 2003 pay-to-play proposal put up by Republican candidates for countywide office in Bergen.

Johnson’s campaign also has the support of some of the state’s top Democrats, including Gov. Phil Murphy and Weinberg.

The longtime running mates have substantively similar voting records, and the primary winners are heavily favored in the general election. Republicans haven’t won in the district since the state adopted its 40-district map in 1973.

This year, Republicans are running a slate of controversial candidates that includes Oath Keeper Edward Durfee.

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