Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia and Carmen T. Morales, the principal of Newark Tech High School, have emerged as the leading contenders for two open State Assembly seats in the newly-drawn 34th district after an Essex Democratic screening committee, the New Jersey Globe has confirmed.
Venezia and Morales would replace Britnee Timberlake (D-East Orange) and Ralph Caputo (D-Nutley). Timberlake is running for the State Senate, and Caputo plans to resign after Senate confirms him to a seat on the Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey Board of Directors.
Neither will go to the legislature immediately. Once Caputo resigns, Democrats are widely expected to elect a caretaker to serve the remainder of his term, which ends in January.
That obviates the need for a special election for mayor in Bloomfield since Venezia will remain in office until he’s ready to be sworn into the legislature next year. Morales can’t enter the Assembly early since her hometown, Belleville, isn’t in the 34th legislature district yet.
If Morales is elected in a district Gov. Phil Murphy won with 73% of the vote, she would become the first Latina from Essex County to serve in the State Assembly.
Morales, 45, began her career as a preschool teacher at The North Ward Center, a non-profit by the late Newark powerbroker Stephen Adubato. She became the operations manager five years later. Morales taught kindergarten in Belleville and became an assistant principal there before joining the Essex County Schools of Technology as a vice principal in 2014 and principal in 2019.
She is also a trustee of Essex County College.
The 41-year-old Venezia is serving his third term as the mayor of Bloomfield. He was elected to an at-large council seat in 2011 and, at age 31, became the youngest mayor in town history when he was elected in 2013. He is a former staffer for U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg and Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-Paterson).
Venezia is the human resources director at the Essex County Schools of Technology.
Along with the 36-year-old Timberlake, the 34th district slate could become the youngest legislative delegation in the state. The combined ages of Timberlake, Venezia, and Morales are just a few years younger than the likely Democratic winners in the 32nd district: Raj Mukherji for Senate and Jessica Ramirez and John Allen for Assembly.