Two years ago, a candidate in a high-profile race for State Assembly lost her job as the New Providence Democratic Municipal Chair after she cast her vote in a party screening committee against the wishes of her own county committee.
The ouster was embarrassing to Stacey Gunderman, who turned out to be a weak opponent against GOP incumbents Jon Bramnick and Nancy Munoz and now sits on the sidelines as Rupa Kale represents her town as a municipal chair.
As Democrats consider a large field of candidates for State Senate and Assembly in the 21st district, Kale appears committed to casting her screening committee vote for the Union County Democratic organization line in accordance with the wishes of her county committee.
Kale said that New Providence Democrats screened legislative candidates on Tuesday night, but stressed that their discussion is ongoing.
“(Senate candidate Joe) Signorello did well. He came across really energetic, as did (Assembly candidate) Scott Salmon,” Kale told the New Jersey Globe. “Anjali (Mehrotra) and Bibi (Taylor) did well. Those were the ones that made the best impressions.
An informal and non-binding straw poll made Salmon the top choice in New Providence, with Mehrotra and Taylor competing for the second slot.
That doesn’t mean New Providence has given Kale any instructions yet.
“We’ll see by the time March rolls around,” the municipal chair said. “We don’t have any controversy this year. We’re going to see how this plays out.”
Signorello, the mayor of Roselle Park, faces state firefighters union president Eddie Donnelly for the Democratic Senate nod. The incumbent, Tom Kean, Jr., is not seeking re-election, and Bramnick is the presumptive Republican Senate nominee.
The field of Democratic Assembly candidates to take on Munoz and whomever the GOP picks for the open seat is now up to seven: Cranford Mayor Patrick Giblin; Bernards Township Democratic Municipal Chair Elizabeth Graner; Ileana Montes, a former director of the state Division of Women under Gov. Jon Corzine; Harrison Clewell, a former intern for a Hudson County assemblyman; Salmon, an attorney who has served as counsel to Rep. Tom Malinowski’s two congressional campaigns; Mehrotra, the Mountainside Democratic municipal chair; and Taylor, a former First Lady of East Orange who is now the Union County Finance Director.
All ten municipal chairs in the Union County portion of the 21st district get on the screening committee to award the organization line, regardless of the size of the town. The Democratic county chairman, Nicholas Scutari, would break a tie.
In 2018, when Democrats were picking a challenger to five-term Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Clinton Township), the Tom Malinowski won the Union County screening committee by just one vote against his main rival, Linda Weber.
That race was decided by Hugh Sinclair, then the Democratic chairman of Garwood, a small town with 4,255 people. Weber dropped out hours after the vote.