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The downtown area in Cranford, New Jersey. (Photo: Shutterstock).

In Cranford, incumbents from both parties seek re-election

Control of Union County swing town has flipped 6 times in last 15 years

By David Wildstein, September 24 2022 5:24 pm

In a bygone era of Union County politics, the train station towns of Summit, Westfield and Cranford were Republican citadels.  Summit and Westfield are now solidly Democratic, and while Cranford leans blue — Democrats started winning local elections there in the 1970s — it remains a swing town – and a place without coattails.

The last GOP presidential candidate to win Cranford was George W. Bush in 2004.  Republican Tom Kean, Jr. carried Cranford six times for the legislature (and once for U.S. Senate), but not when he ran for Congress two years ago against Rep. Tom Malinowski.   But another Republican, Jon Bramnick, keeps winning legislative races there, albeit by narrowing margins.

Democrats are defending a 3-2 majority on the township committee, and each party has one incumbent up for re-election this year after voters elected one candidate from each party in 2016 and 2019.

Republican Mary O’Connor is seeking her fourth term and Mayor Kathleen Miller Prunty, a Democrat, wants a second term.

Their race in 2019 was a close one.

Miller Prunty, who spent two decades running Cranford’s Downtown and Business Development department, held the open seat of retiring Township Committeewoman Ann Dooley with 3,671 votes.  O’Connor just barely edged out Democrat Brian Andrews by 38 votes, 3,567 to 3,529.

Miller Prunty is running with Terrence Curran, a trauma surgeon at Morristown Memorial Hospital who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and as a Jersey City police officer before going to medical school.  On a ticket with O’Connor is Chrissa Stulpin, a sales executive at Siemens Healthineers and the wife of a Cranford police sergeant.

Stulpin ran for township committee in 2020, losing to Democrat Jason Gareis by 884 votes; Andrews won that year by 1,405.

Two of the candidates have ties to Hudson County politics.  O’Connor’s late uncle was James P. Dugan, a state senator from Bayonne and New Jersey Democratic state chairman in the 1970s.  Curran’s wife is former Jersey City Ward A Councilwoman Kathleen Curran.

In last year’s township committee race, Republican Regina Black defeated Democrat Kathleen Rappa by 366 votes, 52%-48%.

Rappa unseated Democratic incumbent Thomas Hannen, Jr. in the Democratic primary by 259 votes, 56%-44%, after local Democrats declined to back Hannen for the organization line.  Gov. Phil Murphy had backed Rappa in the primary.

Voters in Cranford split their ticket in 2021, backing Gov. Phil Murphy by 854 votes, 54%-46%0, but also giving Bramnick an 86-vote plurality in his bid for the State Senate. In the State Assembly race, Cranford went for Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Summit) and Democrat Elizabeth Graner.

O’Connor ran for Union County Commissioner in 2021 and was the top vote-getter in her hometown.  She finished 292 votes ahead of the second—place candidate, Democrat Alex Mirabella, a longtime incumbent.

Control of the Cranford Township Committee has seesawed between the two parties for much o the last two decades.

Republicans took back control in 2006 when David Robinson flipped an open seat with 52% of the vote against Jonathan Jaffe, and Democrats took it back in 2010 when Kevin Campbell and Ed O’Malley defeated incumbent Mark Smith, the sitting mayor, and his GOP running mate, Andis Kalnins to flip two seats.

Democrats lost their majority in 2011 when Kalnins and his running mate, Lisa Adubato beat Mayor Dan Aschenbach and Hannen, the former mayor of Winfield.  Adubato, who is now a Superior Court Judge, was the daughter of the late Michael Adubato, a veteran Democratic assemblyman from Newark’s North Ward.

After Robinson declined to seek re-election in 2012, Democrats regained control when Hannen defeated Republican Scott Mease with 54% of the vote.

Republicans flipped the township committee again in 2013 when O’Connor, the only GOP candidate that year, won the open seat being vacated by Committeeman Edward O’Malley.

Democrats have held a majority since 2017 when Patrick Giblin, the son of Assemblyman Thomas P. Giblin (D-Montclair) and grandson of State Sen. John J. Giblin (D-Newark), and running mate Jean-Albert Maisonneuve defeated Kanins and another GOP candidate, Richard Buontempo.

Presidential elections in Cranford were close – until they weren’t.

Bush outpolled John Kerry in 2004 by 295 votes (51%), and Barack Obama carried Cranford narrowly in 2008 (+ 142, 51%) and 2012 (+464, 52%).  Donald Trump lost Cranford twice: Hillary Clinton had a 1,498-vote plurality (56%) in 2016, and Joe Biden won it by 3,194 votes (61%) in 2020.

Redistricting has hugely impacted Cranford.  It was moved from the 7th congressional district to the 10th, and from the 21st legislative district to the 22nd.

Rep. Donald Payne (D-Newark) heads the Democratic ticket this year after the congressional redistricting commission figured that Cranford, Jersey City and Newark were communities of interest.  Next year, Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) will lead the Democratic slate.

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