Sterley Stanley won a special election tonight for State Assembly in the 18th district, capturing the seat left vacant this month after Nancy Pinkin (D-East Brunswick) resigned to become the new Middlesex County Clerk.
He defeated Edison Councilman Joseph Coyle by a vote of 184 to 135 — a 58%-42% margin. There are 8 provisional ballots still uncounted.
Stanley, a two-term East Brunswick councilman, becomes the first South Asian to represent Middlesex in the New Jersey Legislature.
The 18th has the highest percentage of Asian Americans of any legislative district in the state.
It’s not immediately clear when Stanley will take office. The Assembly does not have a quorum call scheduled until January 27, although Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin could adjust that schedule.
Stanley will fill the remainder of Pinkin’s current two year term, which expires in January 2022.
He will need to win the support of the Middlesex Democratic convention this year to have organization support to run in November for a full two-year term.
The seat in safe Democratic. Republicans have not won an Assembly race in the 18th since 1993, although the Senate seat was held by a Republican until the 2001 election.
The 54-year-old Stanley was re-elected to his East Brunswick council seat by 5,137 votes in 2020 against Republican Suzanne Blum. He served as council president until this year.
East Brunswick Democrats will appoint an interim councilman to replace Stanley. The seat will be up for grabs in a November 2021 special election to fill the remainder of his term.
Stanley had expected him to face a different Edison councilman, Ajay Patil. But a scandal that went public in November allegedly implicating him in a conspiracy involving a racist campaign flyer in a 2017 school board election essentially ended his hopes to win an Assembly race.
Coyle, who had been viewed as a potential mayoral candidate this year, entered the race after being passed over for council president and then not retaining his council vice president post.
He had the backing of Edison Democratic Municipal Chairman Mahesh Bhagia, also a likely challenger to Mayor Thomas Lankey in the Democratic primary. Bhagia’s brother, Raj, is one of the Edison Eight.
The decision to back Coyle put Bhagia in a precarious position of backing a white candidate for Assembly despite calls by the South Asian community for representation in the legislature.
In March, Stanley tested positive for coronavirus and recovered after 21 days of running a high fever.
In addition to East Brunswick and Edison, the district includes Helmetta, Highland Park, Metuchen, South Plainfield and South River – all Middlesex municipalities.