The Ocean United slate, a bipartisan ticket of five incumbent Ocean Township councilmembers – Margie Donlon, Robert Acerra, John Napolitani, Kelly Terry, and David Fisher – all won re-election tonight against a smattering of opponents.
As of 9:37 p.m. and with all election districts reporting, Acerra was in first place with 15% of the vote, followed by Terry and Fisher at 13% and Napolitani and Donlon at 12%. Their closest competitor was Mario Delano, who at 11% of the vote finished 215 votes behind Donlon; further behind were Jacqui Wenzel, Gene Talarico, and Julia Surmonte.
Donlon is also running for the State Assembly this year on State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch)’s ticket in the 11th district, perhaps the most competitive legislative district in the state – and her modest victory tonight is likely to be interpreted as a mixed omen.
Four years ago, Donlon, a practicing physician, was the first-place finisher in a race that also included several incumbent councilmembers. She’s now dropped to fifth place, which Republicans are already claiming is a signal that her legislative ambitions have weakened her in her hometown.
“Now that she’s outed herself as a radical Trenton Democrat by running for Assembly and throwing in with Vin Gopal, voters are seeing her for who she really is,” New Jersey GOP executive director Tom Szymanski said on Twitter.
But Szymanski’s tweet is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, since his party sent out a mailer attacking Donlon in order to achieve exactly this result. Ultimately, all Donlon really had to do in order to remain a viable Assembly candidate was win re-election, and she did.
Saily Avelenda, the executive director of the Democratic State Committee, pushed back on Szymanski’s statement.
“Despite the State Republican Party spending tens of thousands of dollars to send into Ocean Township’s nonpartisan election negative mailers that attacked Margie, Deputy Mayor Donlon and her bipartisan ticket were easily re-elected tonight, despite the state GOP’s gutter politics,” Avelenada said.
If she wins her Assembly campaign, Donlon will have to vacate her Ocean Township office less than a year after she begins her second term. The four remaining councilmembers would then appoint a replacement, who would run in a November 2024 special election to fill the remainder of Donlon’s term.
Donlon told the New Jersey Globe in February that her decision to run for re-election for what may be only a six-month term was based on her desire to complete certain local projects in Ocean Township.
“Ultimately, I can do more for Ocean Township residents if elected to the New Jersey State Assembly in November,” Donlon said. “I plan on winning the seat, but that is in November, and we need to finish these 2023 community projects.”