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Guide to Union County Elections

Municipal races in 10 towns could impact 21st district Assembly race

By David Wildstein, November 02 2019 10:56 pm

Republicans have not won a countywide election in Union County since 1995 and have not won a race for Surrogate since 1978.

With 113,470 more Democrats than Republicans, there is no indication that Union County will change its political direction next week.

Freeholders Bette Jane Kowalski, Sergio Granados and Rebecca Williams face just two Republican opponents: Peter Kane and Glenn Gelband.

James LaCorte is seeking a fifth term as Union County Surrogate against Republican Peter Lijoi.

He was elected in 1999 following the death of Ann Conti and defeated former Republican freeholder Linda Lee Kelly by a 55%-45% margin


Campaigns for local office in ten towns will likely boost turnout for the hotly contested State Assembly race in the 21st district, where incumbents Jon Bramnick and Nancy Munoz face Democrats Lisa Mandelblatt and Stacey Gunderman.

Berkeley Height: Republicans are defending two seats on the township council in a race where Democrats could win control.  The current council is split 3-3, with a Democratic mayor.

Councilman Manuel Couto is seeking re-election on a ticket with Gentiana Brahimaj.  Republican Peter Bavoso is not seeking re-election.  They face Democrats Julie Figlar and Rina Franchino.

In 2018, Democrat Angie Devanney, who was the political director for James E. McGreevey’s 1997 gubernatorial campaign, unseated Republican Mayor Robert Woodruff.  Democrats also ousted two GOP councilmen.

Cranford: Once a solid Republican town, Cranford has shifted Democratic in recent years.  Democrats now outnumber Republicans by a 35%-23% margin.  Democrats currently have a 5-1 majority on the township committee, with one seat from each party up in 2019.

The lone Republican incumbent, Mary O’Connor, and her running mate, Phil Siliato, face Democrats Brian Andrews and Kathleen Miller Prunty.  Democrat Ann Dooley is not seeking re-election.

Republican Leonard Lance carried Cranford with 51% of the vote in the 2016 congressional race, but Democrat Tom Malinowski beat him by a 59%-41% margin in 2018. Cranford voters cast almost as many votes in last year’s House race as they did in the 2016 presidential election.

Garwood: Democrats are defending three seats on the Borough Council, where they have a 5-1 majority.

Incumbents Jennifer Blumenstock and Marc Lazarow face Republicans Victor Stevens and Joseph Nicastro III in a race for two Borough Council seats.  Another Democratic incumbent, Russell Graham, faces William Bellomo in a race for an unexpired term.

Kenilworth: A swing town for decades, Kenilworth has an all-Democratic Borough Council and a 32%-24% Democratic voter registration edge, but delivered a 59% victory for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

Democratic Mayor Anthony DeLuca is not seeking re-election to a second term, creating an open seat contest between Councilwoman Linda Karlovitch and Republican Salvatore Candarella, a former two-term councilman.

If she wins, Karlovitch would become Kenilworth’s second woman mayor.  Republican Kathi Flamingo won the post in 2007 and resigned in 2015 to become a judge.

Incumbents Mark David and Kay Ceceri are seeking re-election to their council seats.  They race Republicans Sean and Scott Pentz.

Mountainside: In a normally sleepy Republican town that got an unusual amount of attention last year amidst the Dildogate scandal, Mayor Paul Mirabelli has no Democratic opponent in his bid for re-election.

Mirabelli does face an independent candidate, Coady Brown.

Democrats came within 77 votes of winning a council seat in 2018, but Mountainside still gave Rep. Leonard Lance 55% of the vote.

Republican Councilman Rene Direkes and running mate Donna Pacifico face one Democrat, union leader and first responder Carlos Gomez.  Gomez ran a strong race in 2017 and has been dogged in his pursuit of votes as he seeks to break the all-GOP stranglehold in Mountainside.

Pacifico wants to replace Glenn Mortimer, the Union County GOP Chairman, who is not seeking re-election to the governing body.

New Providence: Republican Councilman Robert Muñoz, who was dropped from the organization line but still easily won the Republican primary, is running with Michele Matsikoudis.  Council President Mike Gennaro did not seek re-election.

Only one Democrat, John F.X. Keane, is running for council – a surprising lack of local ballot strength for the Democrats considering that Assembly candidate Stacey Gunderman was the municipal chair on filing day.

Roselle Park: Democrats have a 4-2 majority on the Borough Council, where two ward seats – one from each party — are up this year.

In the 3rd Ward, Republican William Fahoury faces a challenge from Democrat Paul Baiamonte.  4th Ward Councilman Michael Connelly, a Democrat, is taking on Edmund Fahoury.
In 2017, Bramnick and Munoz – separated by just three votes — lost Roselle Park by more than 300 votes. Bramnick lost the 3rd Ward by 24 votes, with Munoz 24 votes behind him.  In the 4th Ward, Munoz ran 7 votes ahead of Bramnick, but 53 votes behind Democrat Lacey Rzeszowski.

Springfield: Mayor Erica DuBois and Township Committeeman Richard Huber face Republicans Fred Scott and Geri Ann Kazimir, a former Township Committeewoman.

Republicans lost their last two seats on the Township Committee in 2018.

Summit: Ronald Reagan won Summit with 67% of the vote when he ran for re-election in 1984, but 35 years later Republicans are not running anyone for mayor or for four of the five Common Council seats up this year.

That won’t help the last standing Summit Republican, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, win re-election.

Mayor Nora Radest and Councilwoman At-Large Beth Little are unopposed, as are Danny O’Sullivan and Susan Hairston in the 1st Ward.  O’Sullivan is seeking the seat of Republican Mike McTernan, who is not seeking re-election.  Hairston, the former Democratic Municipal Chair, is running for the unexpired term of Matthew Gould, who died in August at age 48.

In the 2nd Ward, Councilman Stephen Bowman has no Republican opponent. In January, he will become the lone Republican on the seven-member Common Council.

Westfield: Once the crown jewel of Union County Republican politics, Westfield is now on the cusp of becoming a Democratic stronghold.

For Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, until recently the Westfield GOP Municipal Chairman and now in the fight of his political life, that’s not funny.

The Town Council has four Democrats and four Republicans.  All four Republican seats are up this year.

Democrat Shelley Brindle unseated incumbent Mayor Andrew Skibitsky by a massive 61%-39% margin in 2017.  Democrats swept all four council seats.

Two Republican Councilmen, Frank Arena in the Ward 1 and Joanna Neylan in Ward 2 are not seeking re-election.

Democrat James Boyes faces Republican Robert Benacchio in Ward 1, and Democrat Mark Parmalee and Republican Rich Bodmer are facing off in Ward 2.

In Ward 3, Republican Councilman Mark LoGrippo is being challenged by Democrat Jennifer Gilman.  The other Republican, Ward 4 Councilman Doug Stokes, faces Democrat Scott Katz.

Outside the 21st district, there are three local races with contests.

Fanwood: Democratic Mayor Colleen Mahr is unopposed in her bid for re-election and Democrats have a 6-0 council majority.

Longtime Democratic Councilwoman Katherine Mitchell is running with Jeff Banks and Francine Glaser.

Banks was appointed to the council last year when Russ Huegel resigned to become the new Borough Attorney.   No Republicans are challenging him for the unexpired term.

Glaser worked for three Democratic legislators before taking a job at J.P. Morgan Chase. She and Mitchell face Republicans Brian Walter and Jay Morris.

Union: Once the ultimate swing town in New Jersey politics, State Sen. Joseph Cryan (D-Union) has built a seemingly impenetrable local political organization that delivers huge margins to Democratic candidates.

Cryan gets credit for that.  When he became Democratic Municipal Chairman in the 1990s, Republicans controlled local government and Union was represented by Republicans in the New Jersey Legislature.

Democratic incumbents Clifton People, Jr. and Suzette Cavadas face Republicans Krzysztof Nowak and David Fitzpatrick in the race for Township Committee.  People and Cacadas won by a 3-1 margin in 2016.

Winfield:  With less than 1,500 residents occupying 0.177 square miles, Winfield is New Jersey’s newest and smallest municipality.  It was built for defense workers at the Kearny shipyards at the start of World War II.

Mayor Robert Reilly, the only Republican on the three-member township Committee, faces Democrat Joseph Byrne.

In 2016, Reilly unseated incumbent Margaret McManus, who is also the Democratic Municipal Chair, by three votes in a rematch of their 2013 race, which McManus won by 17.  McManus returned to the governing body in 2017, running unopposed.

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