East Rutherford Republicans were able to put together enough write-in votes in Tuesday’s primary to put a slate of municipal candidates on the ballot in the general election as they seek to extend a 49-year streak of Republican mayors.
They were left without a candidate when Mayor James Cassella simply did not file for re-election and failed to notify local GOP leaders before the filing deadline had passed.
“The delay in getting Republican candidates was a reflection of whether Mayor Cassella was going to run for another term,” said GOP municipal chairman Joel Brizzi. “We wanted to give him all the time he needed to make up his mind; given his contributions to the borough over many years, he deserved that consideration.
Sergio Segalini, who has volunteered on local recreation programs and led a fight against unwelcome development on Route 17, is now the Republican candidate for mayor.
“He has shown determination and the ability to get things done,” said Brizzi. “He has big shoes to fill in replacing Mayor James Cassella who has meant so much to this community over two decades.”
Brizzi, who spent 21 years as a councilman, said he had considered running.
“I felt that I could not devote the full amount of time to another campaign and being away from my family,” Brizzi said.
Former councilman Jeffrey Lahullier, who lost his bid for re-election in the 2018 Republican primary, in the Democratic candidate for mayor.
Republicans will run Larry Bongiovanni and Nancy Banca will run for council.
Bongiovanni has served on the Board of Education, and Banca’s husband, Tom, is a former councilman.
Cassella, who had strong ties to Democrats as well, had held public office for nearly 40 years. The New Jersey Senate confirmed him last week 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.