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Seema Singh. Photo courtesy of the State of New Jersey.

Seema Singh considering Senate bid against Bateman

Former state ratepayer advocate was fined $11,000 by State Ethics Commission in 2014

By Nikita Biryukov, June 04 2020 12:01 am

Thirteen years after her only bid for public office, Seema Singh is considering another run for State Senate against Republican Christopher Bateman (R-Branchburg) in the politically competitive 16th district.

“I’m thinking about it,” she told the New Jersey Globe. “Nothing is sure yet.”

Singh, who was named as New Jersey’s ratepayer advocate by Gov. James E. McGreevey, ran for an open state senate seat in the 14th district in 2007 and lost to then-Assemblyman Bill Baroni (R-Hamilton) by 14,126 votes, a 62%-38% margin.

She said she hasn’t discussed a possible run with Democratic County chairs in Somerset, Mercer and Middlesex Counties, though Somerset County Democratic Chairwoman Peg Schaffer said Singh reached out to her executive director on Tuesday.

“I told him to do some intake and to talk to her,” Schaffer said.  “We have a whole screening process.”

An operative representing Singh also contacted Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough).

Schaffer said she would likely back Freiman or Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-South Brunswick) over Singh if either wanted to run.

“Without giving it a whole lot of thought, if Andrew Zwicker or Roy Freiman is interested in running for senate, my inclination would be to support one of them,” she said. “Seema’s not from my county. I’m usually a county-oriented person, so nothing particularly pro- or con-Seema, but I think that one of my guys might be interested.”

It’s not clear how interested Zwicker and Freiman are in the seat Bateman has held since 2007, but neither Democrat was willing to close the door Wednesday.

“I am completely focused on the people of LD-16 and the public health crisis, the economic crisis, the unemployment crisis, and the systemic inequalities and injustices underlying the horrifying killing of George Floyd and so many others,” Zwicker told the Globe when asked if he would rule out a run.

There, the two Democrats saw eye-to-eye.

“The days are consumed with much more urgent matters. I’m not thinking about politics right now. I’m happy to do it some other time, but not right now,” Freiman said, adding that it would be “silly to rule out anything.”

Mercer County Democratic Chairwoman Janice Mironov declined to comment on Singh’s prospective candidacy, saying her attention was focused on this year’s races.

“My thoughts right now are on the national elections, for president and for congress — which I think most of us consider the most consequential in our lifetimes — and our local towns. That’s my focus right now,” she said. “I don’t have thoughts on that race at this time.”

While she declined to say whether she would consider backing anyone for the Senate seat over Zwicker and Freiman, Mironov indicated that the Assemblymen would at least be considered to challenge Bateman.

“We also have two outstanding assemblymen, and we’d certainly see what their thoughts and interests might be,” she said. “But right now, all of us, including them, are focused on the upcoming November crucial elections.”

One hurdle for picking candidates to run will be redistricting, and with delays in the U.S. Census created by COVID-19, it could be another year before new legislative districts are drawn for the 2021 election.

Singh and Zwicker live in South Brunswick and there is no guarantee that the municipality will still be in the 16th district next year.

Another hurdle for Singh could be blistering rebuke by the State Ethics Commission, which fined her $11,000 in 2014 for influencing the award of government contracts to vendors associated with the Asian Indian Chamber of Commerce, where she was president.

The Commission also fined Singh for asking the State Police superintendent to have a traffic ticket expunged.

Singh faced other ethics issues during her 2007 Senate race after taking campaign contributions from employees of utility companies while she was the supposed to be representing the consumer as ratepayer advocate.

In 2006, the state auditor reprimanded Singh for using a state employee to drive her to personal events.

The 16th district is one of three districts in the state with split representation and one of only two represented by officials elected from different parties.

State Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Evesham) and her Republican running mates were elected to represent the eighth district in 2017, but the senator switched to the Democratic party in January 2019.

Zwicker captured an Assembly seat in 2015, ousting incumbent Donna Simon (R-Readington) by 78 votes in a once-solidly Republican district that became competitive after 2011 redistricting replaced heavily-GOP Bridgewater with the Democratic strongholds of Princeton and South Brunswick.

He passed up a chance to run for the senate in 2017 and was re-elected to a second term in the lower house in a landslide that helped Freiman beat back Simon’s comeback bid by 3,040 votes to capture the second Assembly seat.

Democrats concentrated on the Assembly race four years ago, but Democrat Laurie Poppe came within 574 votes of ousting Bateman, the son of legendary former Senate President and gubernatorial candidate Raymond H. Bateman.

The two Democrats won re-election without a great deal of trouble in 2019. Zwicker ran in first with 27,732 votes, and Freiman got 26,466. Their Republican challengers, former Somerset County Freeholder Mark Caliguire and former Montgomery Mayor Christine Madrid, got about 22,000 votes each.

 

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