The Democratic mayor of a swing town in Somerset County will not seek re-election this year, giving Republicans a chance to reclaim the post after four years.
Keith Balla was elected in 2018, defeating Republican Councilman Stephen Black by 159 votes, 53%-47% in Donald Trump’s mid-term election.
“I am stepping away from municipal government to devote more time to my family, my business and my church,” said Balla.
Joe Biden carried Watchung by a 52%-46% against Trump, but local voters backed Republican Thomas Kean, Jr. in his bid for the 7th district congressional seat by a 52.5%-47.3% margin over Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-Ringoes). Kean had represented Watchung in the New Jersey State Senate.
Watchung backed Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Ciattarelli by an 11-point margin, 55%-44%, against Gov. Phil Murphy last year. Murphy had won Watchung by more than 10 points in 2017.
State Sen. Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) won 60% of the vote in Watchung, and Amber Murad, a Watchung school board member who ran for county commissioner, carried her hometown by over 400 votes. Murad is running again in 20022.
Locally, Republicans flipped two Watchung Borough Council seats in 2021. They had also won two seats in 2020.
Balla, a 63-year-old accountant, has been a longtime leader at the Zion Lutheran Church in Clark, serving as president, on the Board of Elders, and as diocese treasurer.
“I stepped away from leadership roles in my church when I became mayor,” Bhalla stated.
Balla had been the Watchung Democratic municipal chairman and had once sought a school board seat in Newark.