A special election for mayor of Rockaway Township will feature a Republican primary faceoff between interim incumbent Joe Jackson and former Councilman Tucker Kelley.
Jackson became mayor last month following the resignation of Michael Puzio. He had been serving as council president.
Kelley claimed the “Regular Republican Organization” banner by filing his petitions 38 days before Jackson did. o
Puzio’s term is not up until 2023, so Rockaway will have a special primary and general elections in 2022 to fill the remaining 13 months of his term.
This is Kelley’s second bid for mayor. He challenged Puzio in the 2019 GOP primary but lost by 792 votes.
Jackson was the top vote-getter in a four-way race for three township council seats in that primary.
Kelley lost his seat in a 2021 primary against Republican Municipal Chair Rachael Brooks by 96 votes.
Pawel Wojtowicz, who was appointed to replace Jackson as an at-large councilman, is also on the ballot this year to fill the unexpired term.
Jackson was the top vote-getter at a GOP county committee meeting in January with 30 votes, followed by former Councilman Donald Reddin with 14 votes. Joe McMahon advanced as the third aspirant after winning a runoff; the first ballot had two candidates tied at 11.
The Rockaway mayoral position had been the subject of considerable controversies and lawsuits in recent years.
Following the death of Mayor Michael Dachisen in August 2018, Council President Jeremy Jedynak became acting mayor. The county committee voted to submit Puzio, former Councilman Paul Minenna, and Adam Salberg as mayoral candidates. They defeated three other candidates: Kent Baez, Robin Shaw and Jon Saucers. The council, where a different GOP faction was in control, chose Minenna.
But two weeks later Superior Court Judge Stuart Minkowitz invalidated the vote, clearing the way for Adam Salberg to replace Paul Minenna as the interim mayor. Minkowitz ruled that the council had not properly noticed the meeting.
Minkowitz also ruled that the council could not seat John Inglesino, a former mayor, as the township attorney.
Since the primary had passed, the council picked Puzio as their nominee in a November 2018 special election. He defeated Minenna by two votes, 20-18.
Local Democrats declined to nominate a candidate for mayor against Puzio, who has endorsed Democrat Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) for Congress against Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains).