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Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

The race for 32nd district Assembly seats is on

Jersey City prepares to fill Mukherji seat, with no assurances that Hoboken wants Chaparro to stay

By David Wildstein, February 22 2022 1:12 pm

With Raj Mukherji seeking an open State Senate seat in Hudson County’s newly-drawn 32nd district, the process to fill his open State Assembly seat – and maybe one other — has already begun.  Jersey City will get the Senate seat and one Assembly seat, with the other Assembly seat going to Hoboken.

While redistricting put Mukherji on a clear path to the Senate, his running mate, Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro (D-Hoboken), could wind up without a seat.

Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop and Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla, who both endorsed Mukherji about two hours after the new legislative map was approved last Friday, will need to coordinate the Assembly picks if they want the ticket to appear diverse.

Democrats expect there to be a Latina Assembly candidate – it’s just not clear whether that candidate will be from Jersey City or Hoboken.

A four-term incumbent, Chaparro went to the Assembly in 2015 as part of a deal between Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer and State Sen./Union City Mayor Brian Stack to dump Assemblyman Carmelo Garcia (D-Hoboken) from the slate.  Stack, mindful of the need for Hispanic representation in his district and advocating to move away from an all-male ticket, told Zimmer she could pick any Latina she wanted.

After Ravi Bhalla became Hoboken mayor in 2017, there was some discussion that he would invoke the unwritten rule of Hudson mayors being able to pick their Assembly candidate.  Rachel Hodes, the Democratic municipal chair and the wife of Bhalla’s city administrator, Jason Freeman, was mentioned as a potential candidate, but the lack of a Hispanic running mate for Stack and Mukherji ultimately saved Chaparro.

Bhalla has been viewed as a potential Assembly candidate, although that would require him to step down as mayor and trigger a special election in 2024.  Bhalla just started his second term last month and it’s not clear if he’ll be ready to go half-way through his second term.  If he doesn’t, the opportunity to serve in the legislature might pass him by.

But if Bhalla does run for the Assembly, it might mean turning the keys to city over to a competing faction —  and set off a battle for the council president position on a heavily-splintered city council because that’s who is next in the line of succession in the event of a vacancy.  Right now, the post his held by Michael Russo, a mayoral aspirant and the son of former mayor Anthony Russo.

There’s no certainty that Bhalla will back Chaparro for another term.  Possible candidates from Hoboken include a top Bhalla aide, John Allen, and Migdalia Pagan-Milano, a municipal official who challenged Bhalla rival Michael DeFusco for a Ward 1 council seat in 2019.  Pagan-Milano would become the first openly gay legislator from Hudson County.

So far, there is more competition for the Jersey City seat, where Fulop will likely pick the person who gets the Assembly seat.

One possible candidate is Hudson County Democratic Chair Amy DeGise, who won an at-large city council seat last year.  Her move to the State Assembly could pave the way for someone else to become county chair.   Jersey City Councilman Daniel Rivera, a strong Fulop ally, is also a possible candidate.

Moving DeGise or Rivera to the legislature creates a potential problem for Fulop: the full city council would appoint someone to hold the seat until a November 2024 special election to fill the unexpired term.  Fulop may want to avoid the uncertainties of a special citywide election with presidential-year turnout, especially if that’s viewed as an indicator of his local political strength if he is seeking the 2025 Democratic nomination for  governor.

Other early possible Jersey City Assembly candidates: school board members Noemi Velazquez and Gina Verdibello; Municipal Court Judge Karen DeSoto; municipal prosecutor Jake Hudnut, who has lost two city council races; and Irene Borngraeber, the executive director of the Liberty Humane Society.

If she’s not the Hoboken candidate, Chaparro would also have the option of moving to Jersey City if Democrats are willing to give her a seat there.

Hoboken makes up about 25% of the new legislative district.

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