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Essex races to watch

By David Wildstein, November 03 2018 1:20 pm

In heavily Democratic Essex County, the races to watch are for mayor in Roseland, Caldwell and North Caldwell.

There are also contested campaigns for the Livingston Township Council, where a Republican who served on former Gov. Chris Christie’s staff is seeking to break 5-0 Democratic majority, and in Millburn, where the lone Republican on the Township Committee is seeking re-election.

Turnout is expected to be higher than usual for a mid-term election since all five towns are in districts with hotly contested congressional races.

Republicans have not won a countywide election in Essex since 1998.


Roseland attracted statewide attention last spring when two high-profile local residents, former Gov. Richard Codey and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo ran competing county committee slates to take control of the local Democratic organization.  DiVincenzo beat Codey 8-4.

Now DiVincenzo is heavily invested in taking control of Roseland in the local election, where the Republican mayor and councilmen are not seeking re-election.  The GOP is sharply divided after a bruising primary saw the local Republican organization candidates defeated.  A slate of independents allied with a Republican faction are also in the race.

The Democratic candidate for mayor is James Spango, the deputy chief of the Essex County Sheriff’s department and the scion of a prominent Essex County Democratic family.  He faces former mayor Michael Pacio, who served as a Republican councilman in the 1980’s before getting elected mayor as a Republican.  He has now switched back.  Laura Struss LaBianca is running as an independent.

Republicans have a 5-1 council majority, so Democrats need to sweep on Tuesday to take control.

The Democrats are running Roger Freda, who came within 43 votes of winning last year, and Eileen Fishman, who won 49% in a 2003 special election for Essex County Freeholder.  The Republican candidates are former councilman John Derites, and Patricia Braga; the independent candidates are Joseph Shearn and Robyn Cassidy.


Republican Mayor Ann Dassing faces a challenge from Democrat John T. Kelly, a councilman.  Dassing is seeking re-election to her second term as mayor after six years as a councilwoman.

The lone Democrat on the Borough Council, Frank X. Rodgers III, is seeking re-election, as his GOP councilman Richard Hauser.  Democrat Christine Schmidt and Republican Jason Fiore are also running for council.  Republicans have a 4-1 majority.

North Caldwell

Republican mayor Joseph Alessi faces independent Richard Verde, a former municipal prosecutor.  Democrats did not nominate a candidate.

Two Republican council seats are unopposed.


In the town where Christie grew up, one of his former aides is the first Christie administration alumni to seek public office.

Brandon Minde, who served as an assistant counsel to Christie, is running as a Republican in a town where Democrats have a 5-0 majority.  Minde, who now works at Christie’s old law firm, unsuccessfully sought an appointment as Essex County Prosecutor a few years ago.

The three Democratic incumbents are mayor Edward Meinhardt and councilmen Shawn Klein and Rudy Fernandez.  Fernandez was one of the Democratic mayors who endorsed Christie five years ago.  Democrats have a significant Democratic registration edge and the GOP has not won a local race in Livingston in eight years.

Republicans have only fielded two candidates for the three seats, so they are not seeking control.  Minde and the other GOP candidate, Debbie Burack, do not get along and are running separate campaigns.   Burack lacks support from the local Republican organization.


Jodi Rosenberg, the lone Republican on the five-member Township Committee, faces a challenge from Democrat Tara Prupis.  Rosenberg was elected in 2015 and is seeking her second term.

County Races

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and Sheriff Armando Fontoura are shoo-ins for re-election.  The only real drama is how many of the 22 Essex municipalities they will carry.

DiVincenzo, a four-term incumbent, faces Republican John Chiaia, a North Caldwell councilman.  Fontoura, in office since 1991, is being challenged Caldwell councilman Pasquale Capozzoli.

Democrat Alturrick Kenney, a former Newark deputy mayor and school board member, and Belleville attorney John Anello will face off for the seat vacated in September when Ted Stephens resigned to become Essex County Prosecutor.

Democrat Tyshammie Cooper, an East Orange city councilwoman, is unopposed in her bid for Essex County Freeholder in District 3.  She will replace interim freeholder Jeanine Bauer, who was appointed last April after Britnee Timberlake resigned to take a seat in the State Assembly.  Republicans have never won the District 3 seat.  No Republican has represented East Orange on the Essex County Board of Freeholders since Geraldo Del Tufo lost re-election in 1974.

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