East Rutherford mayor James Cassella is retiring after nearly 40 years in public office, leaving Republicans without any candidates on the ballot in the June primary and ending a 49-year streak of GOP mayors.
Former councilman Jeffrey Lahullier, who lost his bid for re-election in the 2018 Republican primary, in now running unopposed as the Democratic candidate for mayor.
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.
Sarlo said that he expects Cassella to continue his service as a member of the North Jersey District Water Commission.
“I would hope that the takes a very active role with the Meadowlands mayors’ group,” Sarlo said. “He will continue to play an active role in the 36th district.
Bergen County Republican chairman Jack Zisa said that he was “sorry after all these years he’s not running for re-election.”
“He did a good job,” Zisa said.
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.