Former East Rutherford councilman Jeff Lahullier, who lost his re-election bid in the 2018 Republican primary and then switched parties and sought to run as a Democrat, is expected to be the Democratic nominee for mayor in 2019.
East Rutherford Democrats have voted to give Lahullier the organization line to challenge longtime incumbent James Cassella.
After losing the primary to former councilman Joel Brizzi, Democrats tried to put Lahullier on their ticket 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.
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.