In a race decided by just six votes, East Rutherford has elected a Democratic mayor for the first time in 49 years.
Democrat Jeffrey Lahullier, a former Republican councilman, just narrowly defeated Sergio Segalini, who won the GOP primary as a write-in candidate after Mayor James Cassella surprised local Republicans by announcing his retirement after the filing deadline had passed.
It’s not immediately clear if Segalini will file for a recount.
Lahullier lost his bid for renomination in the 2018 Republican primary.
Cassella, who had strong ties to Democrats as well, had held public office for nearly 40 years. The New Jersey Senate confirmed him earlier this year as a commissioner of the New Jersey District Water Commission.
Cassella, 73, has been running for local office in East Rutherford since defeating Diane Lynch by 200 votes to win an unexpired term on the Board of Education in 1980. He lost a GOP primary for borough council in 1981 and won a seat in 1984. He was elected mayor in 1995, defeating longtime rival Richard DeLauro.
He ran unopposed for re-election in 2015 and was re-elected by a 54%0-28% margin in a three-way race in 2011.
East Rutherford has had a Republican mayor since 1970, when James Plosia defeated Anthony Cammarata to end a twelve-year stretch of Democratic mayors that began with future Rep. Henry Helstoski in 1958.
Democrats have a registration edge of about 500, but except for popular State Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) and Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson), elections tend to be close in East Rutherford.
After losing the primary to former councilman Joel Brizzi, Democrats tried to put Lahullier on their ticket last year after Derek Sands withdrew to manage Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco’s re-election campaign.
Citing New Jersey’s sore loser law, Republicans challenged Lahullier’s eligibility in court and won.
The judge, Estela De La Cruz, also ruled that Democrats had run out the clock on their chance to nominate a replacement candidate. Two weeks later, an appellate court judge overturned De La Cruz’s decision and allowed Daniel Alvarez, a school board member, to run on a ticket with Michael Lorusso.
Despite the protracted legal battle, Alvarez and Lorusso defeated Brizzi and Thomas Banca in the general election.