It’s possible that Judge Robert Wilson screwed up in his ruling Friday that allowed North Arlington Republicans to replace their candidate for mayor after the incumbent, Joseph Bianchi, passed away last week.
Wilson ordered the removal of Bianchi’s name from the ballot and told Bergen County Clerk John Hogan to replace him with Daniel Pronti, a councilman, as the Republican candidate for mayor.
The problem is that the Republican County Committee never met to pick a new candidate. It’s possible that Wilson didn’t fully understand how replacement candidates are chosen. State law says that vacancies for partisan office must be filled by a majority of county committee members – and only those who were elected (not appointed) may vote. There is also a statutory deadline of September 13 to replace candidates.
The New Jersey Globe reached out to the GOP municipal chairman John Bratowicz on Saturday but was told he was “in the bathroom” and unable to come to the phone. Subsequent calls to him went directly to voice mail.
Votes have already begun in North Arlington, where local election officials said some vote-by-mail ballots have already been cast. There’s no word yet how these votes would be handled, or even if Wilson intended to have Pronti simply inherit Bianchi’s votes.
Hogan is expected to be back in court, possibly as early as Monday, in a bid to overturn Wilson’s ruling.
Bianchi was considered the favorite to win re-election to a second term against Democratic councilman Mark Yampaglia and two independents: Al Granell, who had served as a Democratic councilman; and Lillian Saldanha.
If Bianchi had been re-elected posthumously – there is some precedent for that, like in 2005 when Assemblyman Donald Tucker was re-elected 21 days after he died – the Republican County Committee would have selected a new mayor.
In 1945, the Democratic candidate for East Paterson (now Elmwood Park) councilman, Robert Brett, remained on the general election ballot despite his October 3 death. A New Jersey Supreme Court Justice ruled that against a bid by Democrats to replace him on the ballot. Brett wound up defeating Republican Charles Brustlin by 72 votes, 1,109 to 1,037.
In 2005, Joseph DeFalco, the principal at Hackensack High School and a candidate for councilman, died in the shower on Election day morning. He won the election.
Some insiders suggested that Bianchi might be even stronger now that he was last week, since voters in North Arlington might find re-election a fitting tribute to the popular late mayor.
The issue here is that the Republicans reportedly want to gamble on their chances this year, when Democrats might split between Yampaglia and Granell. They don’t want to run a special election in 2019, where Democrats could unite behind a single candidate.
Wilson apparently ordered that the cost of the new ballots be picked up by Bergen County. When the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered an October switch of Bob Torricelli for Frank Lautenberg in the 2002 U.S. Senate race, the Democratic State Committee was also ordered to pay the cost of reprinting ballots.