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North Caldwell Democrats Art Rees, left, Josh Raymond, center, and Steve Weinstein. (Photo: Raymond Team).

Gottheimer’s cousin wins in historic Democratic North Caldwell flip

First Democratic majority in West Essex suburb in over 100 years

By David Wildstein, November 12 2022 3:54 pm

For the first time in its 124-year history, North Caldwell will have a Democratic mayor and a Democratic council majority in January.

Josh Raymond, a 51-year-old former Republican councilman who switched parties this year, narrowly unseated three-term incumbent Joseph Alessi, with the two council seats captured by Republican-turned-Democratic incumbent Arthur Rees and Democrat Stephen Weinstein, a cousin of Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff).

Raymond leads the 72-year-old Alessi by 110 votes, 1,692 to 1,582 (52%-48%).  With 95 provisional ballots still uncounted (mail in ballots postmarked by 8 PM on Election Day have until close of business on Monday to arrive, and some ballot cure letters may still be perfected), there is no path to the Republican mayor winning re-election.

Rees, who switched parties earlier this year, is the top vote-getter with 1,665.  Weinstein leads Republican Councilman Kenneth Tilton by 43 votes; Tilton would need 69 of the provisional ballots (73%) to eke out a win, an unrealistic number.  Republican Lara Schlachter finished fourth, 25 votes behind Tilton.

The victories give Democrats a 4-2 majority on the borough council.

In a joint campaign with his running mates, Weinstein raised $16,255, making him sort of a Dollar Store Gottheimer in comparison to the fundraising prowess of his more successful cousin, known nationally as the Human Fundraising Machine. Gottheimer grew up in North Caldwell, the small Essex suburb where Thomas Mosser, sitting in his kitchen in 1994, was killed when he received a mail bomb from the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, and where George Franconero, a former law partner of Gov. Brendan Byrne and the brother of singer Connie Francis was shot in the head and killed by two gunmen in 1981.

The flip of North Caldwell gives Essex County Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones, Jr. a victory that none of his predecessors, even the venerable Dennis Carey and Harry Lerner, were able to achieve.  North Caldwell had been Republican enough to withstand the split between William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, the blue wave that accompanied Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 landslide, and the 1973 and 1974 Watergate Democratic sweeps that caused other GOP strongholds to elect Democrats to municipal office.

Voter registration in North Caldwell is practically even, with 1,886 Republicans and 1,823 Democrat; the borough has 2,463 unaffiliated voters.

The 11th district’s Democratic congresswoman, Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) carried North Caldwell by ten percentage points and 328 votes, and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, a Democrat, won North Caldwell by 836 votes and  massive 63%-37% margin.   Sherrill and DiVincenzo provided strong coattails to Raymond and his slate.

Raymond, Rees and Weinstein were able to forge a coalition between Democrats and part of the borough’s Republican base.  Republicans had sought to limit Democratic support by pointing out that Raymond and Rees had backed Donald Trump for President and worked against Sherrill in past elections.  They called out Weinstein’s $20,000 contribution to Speaker Paul Ryan and the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2016.

Weinstein also contributed $2,000 to Gottheimer’s bid to unseat seven-term Republican Scott Garrett (R-Wantage) in 2016, but that was far less than the money he gave to House Republicans who were trying to defeat his cousin.

Raymond, a partner at the politically influential McManimon Scotland law firm, served two terms as a councilman.

Joe Biden carried North Caldwell by 236 votes in 2020, with U.S. Senator Cory Booker winning by 89 and Sherrill by 178.   In 2016, Donald Trump had a 122-vote plurality and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Harding) won by 829. Mitt Romney outpolled Barack Obama by 790 votes in 2012.  Sherrill won North Caldwell by 11 points in 2018 when she flipped Frelinghuysen’s seat.

In 2020, Democrats scored their first local victories in more than a century, with Anthony Floria-Callori (2,260) and Matthew Atlas (2,241) ousting two Republican incumbents, Chiaia (2,165) and Cynthia Santomauro (2,157).   Raymond backed the two Democratic candidates.

Republicans swept North Caldwell in 2021, with Jack Ciattarelli winning by 165 votes against Gov. Phil Murphy – a little better than Kim Guadagno’s 121-vote margin against Murphy in 2017. Republicans had carried North Caldwell by 597 votes in the 2009 governor’s race.

But last year, Democrats chose not to compete, allowing Republican Councilmen Robert Kessler and Francis Astorino to run unopposed.

Alessi, a former assistant Essex County Prosecutor, won 71% of the vote against independent Richard Verde in 2018.  He was unopposed in 2010, when he succeeded Mayor Mel Levine, and again in 2014.

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