Home>Campaigns>Judge sets two dates for Trenton runoffs: December 13 for ward races, January 24 for at-large

Mercer County Assignment Judge Robert Lougy. (Photo: New Jersey Globe).

Judge sets two dates for Trenton runoffs: December 13 for ward races, January 24 for at-large

Hearing on whether Trenton runoffs are legal set for Tuesday

By David Wildstein, December 04 2022 4:32 pm

Runoff elections for North and West Ward seats on the Trenton City Council will be held on December 13, but runoffs for three at-large seats will be held on January 24, Mercer County Assignment Judge Robert Lougy ruled on Sunday.

In the North Ward, Jennifer Williams will face Algernon Ward.  Damian Malave will face Jenna Figueroa Kettenburg in the South Ward.

Next month, Yazminelly Gonzalez, Crystal Feliciano, Jasi Edwards, Kadja Manuel, Alexander Bethea and Taiwanda Terry-Wilson will compete for the three at-large seats.

“In the interest of justice, the court does not find that the third U-turn exacerbates any confusion to the electorate or the candidates or the additional costs that would be associated with reinstating the December 13, 2022 date for the ward specific runoff elections,” Lougy said.

If the results of both ward races are certified by January 1 —  the certification date is supposed to be December 26 – that will allow the city council to organize with a quorum on January 1.  That would likely obviate any need for Gov. Phil Murphy to appoint interim council members.

Lougy’s decision reverses one he made on Friday morning that moved the ward elections, where voting is already underway, to January 24.

Deputy Attorney General Susan Scott, in a statement made to the court on Friday and affirmed in a court filing on Sunday, accepted responsibility for confusing filings last week that led Lougy to believe that election officials supported moving ward runoffs to next month.

“The court does find that this is a matter of public interest because what’s more fundamental than the right to participate in a fair and free election and the court declines to interject any additional confusion and or delay and the ability of the elections officials to prepare for the December 13th, 22, 2022 election,” Lougy stated.

Trenton City Clerk Brendan Garcia certified on November 23  that Gonzalez, Feliciano and Edwards had received enough votes to be elected without a runoff.

Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello strongly pushed back on statements made by Flavio Komuves, the attorney for Manuel, Betha and Terry-Wilson, that her office had somehow held back election turnout data, saying that her office was initially told by voting machine manufacturer Dominion that they could not determine how many voters participated in the at-large race, where ballots could be cast for zero to three candidates.

“It wasn’t something that we tried to sit on or anything of that nature.  We weren’t aware it could be done and it did require intense.  Background work on the part of our technical assistance from Dominion and our IT staff,” Sollami Covello stated.  “It’s not a front end report where we could simply hit a button and we did have to wait until after the election was certified on November 23rd in order to even run a report.  So I just want to make that clear for the record before this is over.”

Lougy also disagreed that moving the at-large runoff to January 24 violated an executive order signed last month by acting Gov. Sheila Oliver.

The court also accepted a request by Deputy Attorney General George Cohen for scheduling the at-large election for January 24,  without any discussion of why the contest could not be held on January 10 or 17.

Ward had sought to move the ward election to January 24.  He suggested that he might appeal.

Lougy has set a separate hearing for Tuesday to rule on a challenge by Malave as to the legality of Trenton runoffs.

Malave’s attorney, Jerry Dasti, claims that Trenton never adopted an ordinance permitting runoff elections.   Malave was the top vote-getter in the South Ward, leading Jenna Figueroa Kettenburg by 57 votes, 47.7% to 42.4%.

In a court hearing on Friday, Trenton city attorney Wesley Bridges said his office was unable to locate government records relating to the runoff.

In his filing, Dasti has pointed to a 1982 referendum where Trenton voters ended runoffs in municipal non-partisan elections; as a result, there were no runoffs in 1986.  But In November 1987, Mayor Arthur Holland led a move to bring back runoff elections and Trenton voters approved the measure by about 200 votes.   Accordingly, runoff elections returned in 1990.

“In the event that Mr. Dasti’s arguments ultimately prevail, it’s better to have worked a little bit too much and have not worked hard enough,” said Lougy.

Williams said in a statement on Sunday evenng that she and Kettenburg “asked our legal syste to honor the votes that had already been cast.”

“As the Attorney General’s office admitted its mistake in calling to move this December 13th  runoff – it never should have been moved in the first place. With this judgment, Trenton will have enough City Council members installed to conduct city business on January 1st,” she said.  “I am proud to have fought for their ability to vote for Trenton’s future in this runoff and I look forward to fighting for them soon as their North Ward councilperson.”

This story was updated at 10:42 PM with comment from Williams. 

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