Should voters get to decide who fills the seat of longtime Newark City Councilwoman Mildred Crump, who resigned for health reasons on Monday?
“Technically, yes,” said City Clerk Kenneth Louis. “But in reality, it’s impossible to do. There really isn’t time for us to pull this off.”
State law requires special elections for municipal elected officials if the vacancy occurs before September 1. That would trigger a November 2 contest for Crump’s term, which expires on June 30.
Instead, the city council quietly voted on Tuesday to give the seat to her son, Larry, and bypass an election.
The deadline to prepare the general election ballot for printing is September 13, and vote-by-mail ballots are due to go out on September 18.
“We can’t change deadlines,” Louis said of the statutory requirements for printing ballots. “We’re locked into this.
According to Louis, the window for prospective candidates to file nominating petitions is too narrow when specific benchmarks — like gathering the estimated 1,632 signatures needed to get on the ballot – and possible legal challenges to petitions, is too narrow.
Some Newark political leaders, who spoke the New Jersey Globe on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that a cloud hangs over the process used by Larry Crump to take the council seat of his 82-year-old mother.
Several individuals confirmed that Crump, whose mother has missed meetings for the last few months, had been discussing a resignation – and his own desire to the seat – for more than a month.
By delaying the resignation until this week, Newark officials avoided the necessity of a November special election. But if they were trying to be cute, they may not have been cute enough: another nine days and there would have been no question as to the necessity of a general election.
A special election for Crump’s seat has a potential value Gov. Phil Murphy, but also a possible risk.
A competitive race for an at-large city council seat might trigger turnout in the state’s largest city, where Murphy won 95% of the vote in the last election.
But a legal challenge to the decision not to allow voters to elect a city council member could mean delay the mailing of 6,015 vote-by-mail ballots next month into a hugely blue big city.
The last two city council vacancies have triggered special elections.
Following the resignation of Donald Payne, Jr. from his at-large council seat in November 2012 to take his seat in Congress, the city council faces some legal challenges in a race to replace him.
Some council members sought to replace Payne with Shanique Speight, now an assemblywoman from the 29th district, but she only received four votes from the other eight councilmembers. Counting abstentions as no votes, then-Mayor Cory Booker broke the tie in Speight’s favor.
But a Superior Court Judge Dennis Carey ruled that abstentions don’t count as no votes and that no tie existed for Booker to break.
Instead, the seat remained vacant until a November 2013 special election to fill the remaining seven months of Payne’s term. The winner of that election was a Booker political foe, John Sharpe James, the son of the former mayor, but by then Booker had won a seat in the U.S. Senate.
After a Judge Patricia Costello removed Central Ward Councilman Dana Rone from office on August 6, 2008, Newark held a November 2008 special election to fill her unexpired term. Sixteen candidates sought the seat; Charles Bell defeated Eddie Osborne by a 38%-32%.