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Assembly candidates Lisa Mandelblatt, left, and Stacey Gunderman. (Photo by Nikita Biryukov)

Mandelblatt, Gunderman win in LD21

Two-candidate team defeats Jill Lazare

By Nikita Biryukov, June 04 2019 9:40 pm

Lisa Mandelblatt and Stacey Gunderman have won the Democratic nod to run for Assembly in the 21st legislative district.

The two-candidate team defeated perennial candidate Jill LaZare and will face Assembly Minority Leader Job Bramnick and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz in November.

Gunderman was the top Democratic vote-getter. She had 3,413 ballots cast in her name, only slightly more than the 3,346 Mandelblatt received.

LaZare got 2,118 votes.

“Tonight, we put Jon Bramnick and Nancy Munoz on notice that their terms are ending in November,” Gunderman said. “Lisa and I are so thankful for your support in getting us here. Now the real work begins. We are more than up for the challenge. Lisa and I have already knocked on hundreds of doors. Over the summer and fall we are going to knock on thousands more. Our opponents barely won in 2017, and with your help we’re going to finish the job in 2019.”

Two candidates, Martin Marks, a former Scotch Plains mayor, and Harry P. Pappas, a hugely controversial former Union County Democratic Chairman, are mounting bids as independent conservatives.

Munoz and Bramnick have both declined to comment on concerns of those two candidates acting as spoilers in the general.

In 2017, Bramnick ran two points ahead of Democratic candidate Lacey Rzeszowski. Munoz beat her by about one point.

Given that results, Democrats are eyeing the district as a potential pickup this year, though the primary candidates clearly had different plans for how to win in the general.

LaZare ran as a progressive, while Mandelblatt and Gunderman opted to run closer to the center.

The two declined to endorse a millionaire’s tax — LaZare offered full-throated support for the policy — and gave Gov. Phil Murphy a “B” for his first 18 months in office.

LaZare gave Murphy an “A-,” with both camps saying his failure to pass some of his policy priorities led to him losing some points.

Murphy, a progressive, is likely to come up during the general campaign, especially in districts like the 21st, where voter may be wary of some progressive policy proposals.

Though Republicans have held the 21st legislative district since its lines were redrawn in 1980, Democrats outnumber Republicans there and have vastly expanded their voter registration lead over the last year and a half.

There are 50,773 registered Democrats and 46,410 registered Republicans in the 21st.

Those figures give Democrats a 4,737-voter lead in registration.

On the day of 2017’s general election, there were 1,635 more Democrats than Republicans there.

It’s worth noting that unaffiliated voters — there are 67,224 of them in the county compared to 50,773 Democrats and 46,410 Republicans — account for a plurality of the district’s voters

Though fundraising and spending figures that are up-to-date through election day are not yet available, 11-day pre-primary reports showed Mandelblatt and Gunderman with a significant cash advantage over LaZare in the days leading into the primary.

They outraised her seven to one.

Mandelblatt, the race’s top earner, brought in $72,900, though $56,100 of that came from a personal loan Mandelblatt gave her campaign. Eleven days out from the open of polls, Mandelblatt still had $70,365 on hand.

Gunderman raised $10,695 and has $8,169 in the bank.

Most of the money Mandelblatt and gunderman spent came from a joint account for the two running mates.

That account brought in $18,846 and had $4,819 remaining before Memorial Day weekend.

Lazare raised $13,083. She had $11,786 cash-on-hand.

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