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Assemblyman Rob Karabinchak at Gov. Phil Murphy’s FY2024 Budget Address. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Karabinchak noncommittal on contentious Edison council race

Incumbent declines to directly endorse municipal party-endorsed candidates

By Joey Fox, March 23 2023 1:55 pm

As Edison Democrats descend into another internecine fight over this year’s township council elections, Assemblyman Robert Karabinchak (D-Edison) is seemingly hoping to stay out of the fray, declining to back any of the myriad candidates running for four council seats.

“I’m looking to support the people who are going to support the whole Democratic organization,” said Karabinchak, himself a former Edison councilman.

At a meeting of Edison Democratic county committeemembers earlier this week, four candidates (one incumbent and three challengers) aligned with Democratic municipal chairman Mahesh Bhagia won the party endorsement, beating out three other incumbent councilmembers in New Jersey’s sixth-largest town.

That spells trouble for Mayor Sammy Joshi, who has an antagonistic relationship with Bhagia. If the four county committee-endorsed candidates – Councilman Richard Brescher, Asaf Shmuel, Robert Kentos, and Lav Patel – eventually win seats on the council, that would leave Joshi with just three allies left on the seven-member body.

But Middlesex County Democrats ultimately have the power to decide which candidates make it onto their organizational line, and they may or may not agree with Edison Democrats. Karabinchak indicated today that he’d support whoever gets the county line, which will be awarded this weekend.

“The [Edison Democratic organization] made a decision with four candidates,” he said. “We’ll see the path that it takes. Obviously, the senator, myself, and the other assemblyman – we’re following the state and our county. That’s what we’re doing.”

There’s recent precedent for Middlesex Democrats overriding the Edison municipal committee’s endorsement. In the 2021 mayoral race, Bhagia guided the local party to endorse him for mayor, but the county Democratic organization instead chose to give its line to Joshi, a then-councilman who went on to crush Bhagia in the Democratic primary.

During that campaign, Karabinchak was initially a supporter of Bhagia, but he switched his endorsement to Joshi after Bhagia became embroiled in a scandal related to a racist campaign flier from 2017.

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