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Union Democrats begin process to fill Holley Assembly seat

Garretson, Atkins are possible candidates, along with brother-sister duo from Hillside

By David Wildstein, February 11 2021 1:32 pm

Four candidates have emerged as contenders for the 20th district State Assembly seat that Jamel Holley (D-Roselle) is giving up to run for State Senate, with Rev. Reginald Atkins appearing to be the front-runner.

Union County Commissioner Angela Garretson, a former Hillside mayor, could also run for the open Assembly seat.

“I am interested and discussing options with my team,” Garretson said.

Also in the mix are a brother and sister from Hillside who both serve in local office: Hillside Councilman George L. Cook III school board member Kimberly Cook.

Garretson has served in government for 17 years, starting as school board member.  She was re-elected to her county post in 2020 and played a leading role in convincing Gov. Phil Murphy and Democratic legislative leaders to change the Board of Freeholders to the county Board of Commissioners.

Atkins, a former councilman who served as interim mayor last year, is a clergyman who is popular in Roselle and among Democratic leaders in Union County.

He is also the Roselle Democratic municipal chairman.  That post gives him 25% of the votes at the Union County Democratic screening committee to award the organization line, along with Democratic municipal chairs in Elizabeth, Union Township and Hillside.

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden), the Union County Democratic Chairman, would break a tie to award the line.

Atkins declined to comment on his interest in the Assembly seat but said that Holley’s seat should “absolutely” remain in Roselle.

George Cook, who served as Hillside Board of Education President before his election to the council in 2017, is considering a run for the legislature.

“Of course it would be something I’d be interested in,” Cook told the New Jersey Globe.

Cook said he wasn’t worried if he had to compete against his sister for the organization line.

“It wouldn’t be personal.  Whoever gets it, that would be great,” he said. “It’s an honor for the family either way.”

The winner of the screening committee process will run on an organization line with State Sen. Joseph Cryan (D-Union) and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Elizabeth) – and likely Gov. Phil Murphy.

Holley announced this week that he would challenge Cryan for the Senate seat.

Progressive Jason Krychiw is also running for Senate on a ticket with Assembly candidates Aissa Heath and Ricky Castaneda.

Holley went to the Assembly in 2015 after Cryan gave up his seat to become Union County Sheriff.  Cryan moved to the Senate in 2017 when Raymond Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) sought the Democratic nomination for governor.

The last Hillside resident to serve in the legislature was Alexander Menza, a Democrat and former mayor who won a State Senate seat in 1973.  He ousted former Senate President Frank X. McDermott (R-Westfield) in the Watergate landslide election.

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