Home>Local>Atlantic>A look at New Jersey’s 2023 May municipal elections

A scene from a Dr. Seuss-themed attack against Red Bank mayoral candidate Tim Hogan. (Photo: Billy Portman).

A look at New Jersey’s 2023 May municipal elections

Seven towns hosting contested elections, some of them highly competitive

By Joey Fox, May 05 2023 5:21 pm

New Jersey’s third-most important Election Day is nearly here.

The top spots, of course, go to the state’s June primary and November general elections. But next week’s May 9 local elections will still be consequential for the future of more than a dozen towns, which combined are home to hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans.

In West New York, a former congressman is seeking a comeback, but he’ll have to get through a strong challenger first. In Red Bank, two formidable slates will compete in the borough’s first nonpartisan election. And in Ocean Township, a potential future assemblywoman faces an early test of her electoral prowess.

Here’s a look at the 13 towns with candidates on the ballot next Tuesday.

West New York

Up for election: 5 commissioner seats
Sires Team for WNY: Albio Sires, *Victor Barrera, Adam Parkinson, Marielka Diaz, Marcos Arroyo
West New York Forward: *Cosmo Cirillo, *Margarita Guzman, Angelica Jimenez, Walter Lopez, Hiram Gonzalez
Population: 52,912
Mail ballots: 3,132 sent, 1,278 returned
Will have early voting

With none of New Jersey’s biggest cities holding elections this May, the role of headliner instead falls to West New York, a medium-sized Hudson County town hosting a generational contest to succeed incumbent Mayor Gabe Rodriguez.

Leading one ticket is former U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, who represented most of Hudson County in Congress from 2006 until his retirement last year. This campaign represents something of a homecoming for Sires; he previously served as West New York’s mayor for 11 years, from 1995 through his first election to the House.

Running on Team Sires is incumbent Town Commissioner Victor Barrera, West New York Board of Education President Adam Parkinson, Marielka Diaz, and Marcos Arroyo, the Republican nominee for Congress last year to succeed Sires. (He got annihilated by now-Rep. Rob Menendez in the heavily Democratic district.)

The other ticket is led by Town Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo, who was seven years old when Sires first became mayor. Cirillo’s team includes two current officeholders – Town Commissioner Margarita Guzman and Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez – as well as Walter Lopez and Hiram Gonzalez.

Former Mayor Felix Roque also briefly entered the race in January, but he withdrew less than a month later; Roque served eight years as mayor before losing to Rodriguez in 2019.

Sires has the support of the overall Hudson Democratic organization, particularly State Sen./Union City Mayor Brian Stack, and he also managed to draw a full-throated endorsement from Gov. Phil Murphy. But in a nonpartisan contest where local issues are at the forefront, endorsements from outside of West New York may not mean as much as they would in a traditional campaign.

As of campaign finance reports filed late last month, both campaigns have a lot of money for the final stretch: Team Sires had $111,025 on-hand to Team Cirillo’s $93,851. But Sires has raised and spent more overall, so he’s had a greater ability to get his message out.

Potentially adding a wrinkle to the campaign is that in West New York, like in many New Jersey towns, there’s no official election for mayor; the five winning commissioner candidates instead choose a mayor from among themselves.

That raises the possibility of a split decision, where the more popular or well-known members of each slate end up winning seats. It’s conceivable that both Sires and Cirillo end up on the board of commissioners, with the role of mayor going to whichever one managed to win a majority of the other three seats.

And one more thing: if Jimenez wins, that means she’ll leave her Assembly seat open, necessitating a temporary appointment to serve out the remaining few months of her term. Presumably, the seat would go to Rodriguez, the incumbent town mayor who is already on the ballot for a full Assembly term; Jimenez launched her commissioner campaign in the first place because Hudson Democrats had chosen to support Rodriguez for her seat.

North Bergen

Up for election: 5 commissioner seats
The Sacco Team for Our Future: *Nicholas Sacco, *Hugo Cabrera, *Allen Pascual, Claudia Rodriguez, Anthony Vainieri
North Bergen First: Larry Wainstein, Lucy Rodriguez, Tony Parrales, Acides Siri, Franklin Fabre
Population: 63,361
Mail ballots: 3,112 sent, 1,195 returned

One town over, North Bergen is also hosting a contested election – though if previous results are any indication, it may not be that close.

Incumbent Mayor Nicholas Sacco, who has led his Hudson County town since 1991, faces his third consecutive campaign against Larry Wainstein, a local businessman who has been dogged in challenging Sacco both in elections and in court. Sacco beat Wainstein by a margin of 65%-35% in 2015 (in a ten-way race for five seats, that’s how the two ticket leaders did against one another) and 68%-32% in 2019.

Like in previous years, Wainstein is self-funding his campaign to an extent rarely seen in local races; all told, he appears to have given himself more than $600,000. Sacco has been no fundraising slouch either, raising more than $400,000 – most of it coming from the Democratic municipal committee he controls.

Sacco’s team includes two incumbent commissioners, Hugo Cabrera and Allen Pascual, as well as two newcomers: school board member Claudia Rodriguez and Hudson County Commissioner/county Democratic chairman Anthony Vaineri, who may be on a path to becoming mayor when Sacco retires.

Running with Wainstein are Lucy Rodriguez, Tony Parrales, Acides Siri, and Franklin Fabre; both Siri and Fabre were also on Wainstein’s 2019 ticket, and Siri was on the 2015 ticket as well.

Even accounting for Wainstein’s truly gargantuan self-funding, it seems unlikely that this year’s result will be much different from either of Sacco’s previous two landslide victories. But another term as mayor would still only be something of a consolation prize for Sacco; after this year, Sacco will no longer have his perch in the State Senate, thanks to a new legislative map that put him in the same district as fellow Hudson County mayor Brian Stack.

Red Bank

Up for election: Mayor’s office, 6 council seats
Red Bank’s Ready: *Billy Portman (mayor) / *Kate Triggiano, Ben Forest, Nancy Facey-Blackwood, Laura Jannone, David Cassidy, Kristina Bonatakis (council)
Red Bank Together: Tim Hogan (mayor) / *Jacqueline Sturdivant, *John Jackson, *Michael Ballard, Sean Murphy, Linda Hill, Erin Fleming (council)
Dedicated to Representing Red Bank: Suzanne Viscomi (council)
Population: 12,936
Mail ballots: 1,130 sent, 483 returned
Will have early voting

Red Bank, a small and picturesque borough in Monmouth County, has long been known for its remarkably rancorous Democratic primaries. Thanks to a new charter adopted last year that switches the borough to a nonpartisan system, the primaries are a thing of the past – but the rancor isn’t.

Incumbent Mayor Billy Portman won a dominant off-the-line primary victory just last year, beating a party-endorsed councilman by 22 points. Thanks to the charter change, though, he now has to immediately run for re-election to a full four-year term against Tim Hogan, the president of local hospital Riverview Medical Center.

Riverview itself has become the campaign’s dominant issue, which is no help to Hogan. The hospital is unpopular in town for its efforts to buy land and its avoidance of property taxes, two things that Portman has been happy to hammer Hogan with.

That issue alone probably makes Portman the favorite for re-election; the bigger question is whether he can win a majority on the borough council as well. Portman currently only has one ally on the council, while every other councilmember is aligned with Councilman Ed Zipprich, who was the Democratic municipal chairman until his ouster last year.

That lone ally, Councilwoman and current Democratic municipal chair Kate Triggiano, is running with Portman, as are Ben Forest, Nancy Facey-Blackwood, Laura Jannone, David Cassidy, and Kristina Bonatakis.

On Hogan’s slate are three incumbent councilmembers – Jacqueline Sturdivant, John Jackson, and Michael Ballard, who was the loser of last year’s mayoral primary – as well as Sean Murphy, Linda Hill, and Erin Fleming. A thirteenth candidate, Suzanne Viscomi, is also running independent of any slate.

One factor in Hogan’s favor is that his slate has quite a bit more money than their opponents. Hogan’s joint candidate committee had $30,337 on-hand as of the most recent campaign finance reports, while Portman and his running mates had less than $10,000 and haven’t spent very much.

If Portman is able to get all of his council running mates elected, that would represent a major sea change in Red Bank politics after years of control by Zipprich (who isn’t running for re-election). If Hogan were to pull off a clean sweep, that would be its own clear signal about the direction of Red Bank politics.

But a split result, which is very possible, could lead to a continuation of the same intra-Democratic fights that have plagued Red Bank for years – nonpartisan charter be damned.

Ocean Township (Monmouth County)

Up for election: 5 council seats
Ocean United: *John Napolitani, *Robert Acerra, *Margie Donlon, *David Fisher, *Terry Kelly
Just Vote: Julia Surmonte
The People’s Voice: Jacqui Wenzel
Ocean Building a Stronger Community Together: Gene Talarico
Dedicated to Ocean: Mario Delano
Population: 27,672
Mail ballots: 2,642 sent, 894 returned

Not far from Red Bank is Ocean Township, a swingy suburban town with an intriguing bipartisan council.

Back in 2019, then-Mayor Chris Siciliano and three of his running mates – Councilman John Napolitani and newcomers Margie Donlon and David Fisher – were elected to the council together, with the final seat going to Councilman Robert Acerra, a former Siciliano ally who ran on a different slate. The result produced a council with Democratic, Republican, and independent representation.

Four years later, Acerra has rejoined the fold, running for re-election alongside now-Mayor Napolitani, Donlon, Fisher, and Councilwoman Kelly Terry, who was appointed last year to succeed Siciliano, on the Ocean United slate.

Opposing the multipartisan quintet of incumbents are four challengers, each of whom is running independently of one another: Julia Surmonte, Jacqui Wenzel, Gene Talarico, and Mario Delano.

At least in terms of fundraising, Delano appears to be the most formidable challenger, raising nearly $15,000; Surmonte has raised less than $2,500, while Talarico and Wenzel each filed paperwork saying they intended to raise less than $5,800 total. The Ocean United slate has raised around $49,000.

The results, whatever they may be, will surely have plenty of local impacts. For political observers outside of Ocean Township, however, only one question about the race is truly important: how will Margie Donlon do?

That’s because Donlon is a Democratic candidate for Assembly this year in the 11th legislative district, possibly the single most competitive district in the state. She’s running on a ticket with State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch) and former municipal court judge Luanne Peterpaul to take down two Republican incumbents, Assemblywomen Marilyn Piperno (R-Colts Neck) and Kim Eulner (R-Shrewsbury), who unexpectedly won in 2021.

If Donlon, who was the top vote-getter in 2019, turns in another strong performance, that’s a good sign for her and the Monmouth Democratic team. If, on the other hand, she does poorly or even loses her seat, the Republican attack lines write themselves: how can Margie Donlon represent us in Trenton when her own constituents voted her out?

What’s more, Ocean Township is something of a bellwether for the 11th district as a whole. In 2021, Gopal won the town and the district, while Phil Murphy narrowly lost both; as goes Ocean, so (usually) goes LD11.

Margate City

Up for election: 3 commission seats
Experience & Vision for Margate’s Future: *Maury Blumberg, Cathy Horn, Michael Collins
Margate Deserves Better: Calvin Tesler, Aaron Singer, Tish Calvarese
Population: 5,317
Mail ballots: Around 750 returned

The Atlantic County city of Margate only has a population of around 5,000, but with two seats on the three-member city commission open this year, it’s hosting a competitive and expensive campaign.

One incumbent commissioner, Maury Blumberg, is running for re-election alongside school board president Cathy Horn and businessman Michael Collins. Blumberg’s two running mates in 2019, Mayor Michael Becker and Commissioner John Amodeo, are both stepping down.

Challenging them is the “Margate Deserves Better” slate, consisting of Calvin Tesler – who lost to the incumbent slate in 2019 – Aaron Singer, and Tish Calvarese.

The Margate Deserves Better team has raised around $33,000, a solid sum for a local election in such a small town – but still less than the Blumberg slate’s $43,000. Among Blumberg’s donors is the Atlantic County Republican Committee, a sign of where the county Republican establishment stands.


Up for election: 2 council seats
Protecting Verona’s Future: *Christine McGrath
Collaborate Leadership for Verona: *Alex Roman
New Leadership: Christian Strumolo
Population: 14,572
Mail ballots: 1,803 sent, 571 returned

After four years as one of Essex County progressives’ favorite politicians, Verona Deputy Mayor Christine McGrath faces her first re-election test this year. In the 2019 municipal election, McGrath dramatically outpolled the rest of the field, coming in first place in a five-way race and ousting an incumbent councilman.

Also running for re-election is Mayor Alex Roman, who won re-election by all of two votes in 2019. Roman and McGrath are running for re-election independent of one another.

Opposing them both is Christian Strumolo, the son of former Bloomfield Democratic municipal chair Peter Strumolo and a candidate for local office in 2005 and 2007. Strumolo has self-funded enough that he has the money to run a serious campaign, but he also has a history of arrests and bankruptcy hanging over his head, so McGrath and Roman should be favored to win.


Up for election: 4 council seats
No slogan: *Gary Schaer, *Thania Melo, *Chaim Munk, Maritza Colon-Martinez
Team for Change: Diomedes Minaya, Marko Kopic, Deyanira Pena-Placencia, Lisa Abreu Wozniak
It’s Time to Make a Change: Jeffrey Dye
Population: 70,537
Will have early voting

A nine-way race for four seats sounds like it would be a chaotic and competitive election, but that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening this year in Passaic.

The clear favorites in the race are three incumbents – Thania Melo, Chaim Munk, and Gary Schaer, who is also an assemblyman – as well as one former councilwoman, Maritza Colon-Montanez. All four are running together with the support of Mayor Hector Lora.

Opposing them is the “Team for Change,” slate led by Diomedes Minaya, a perennial candidate on his eleventh bid for local office; the slate also includes Marko Kopic, Lisa Abreu Wozniak, and Deyanira Pena-Placencia. A ninth candidate, Jeffrey Dye, is also running separately from the two main slates.

Anything could theoretically happen, especially since the city’s ballot design does not bracket members of the same slate with one another. But since none of the challengers have reported raising any money, it would be a major upset if Lora’s slate loses.

Uncontested races

Finally, there are a number of towns where exactly as many candidates filed as there are offices up for election, making Tuesday’s results a bit of a snooze.

In South Orange, Village President Sheena Collum is running uncontested, as are Village Trustee Summer Jones and two newcomers, Jennifer Greenberg and Olivia Lewis-Chang. Along with three incumbents whose seats aren’t up this year, they will remain the only village president and trustees in the entire state of New Jersey; the state’s three other villages all use a different form of government.

Also in Essex County, Cedar Grove will host an uncontested race for three council seats. Mayor Joseph Maceri and Councilman John Zazzali are running for re-election, while former school board member Michele Mega will take Councilman Peter Tanella’s seat.

Up in Lodi, five candidates filed for five seats: Mayor Scott Luna, Councilman Vincent Martin, Councilman Emil Carafa, Councilman Joseph Leto, and Bruce Masopust, a former mayor who is set to succeed retiring Councilman Albert DiChiara.

A number of South Jersey towns are also holding elections with predetermined outcomes. For Haddon Township, that’s not unusual; Mayor Randy Teague and Councilmen James Mulroy and Ryan Linhart are running in the town’s fourth consecutive uncontested election.

In Sea Isle City, one of the state’s last remaining dual officeholders will retain that storied distinction. Leonard Desiderio has been mayor for 30 years and a Cape May County Commissioner for 20; he won re-election as county commissioner unopposed in 2021, and is set to do the same next week as mayor. Also uncontested are Councilmen William Kehner and Frank Edwardi.

And in Avalon, Mayor Martin Pagliughi is retiring after 32 years, but that still doesn’t mean there’s any competition to replace him. Councilman John McCorristin is set to become the town’s next mayor, while Councilmembers Barbara Juzaitis and Samuel Wierman are running for re-election unopposed.

Spread the news: