Gov. Phil Murphy is taking sides in a contentious Democratic primary for the Cranford Township Committee, with First Lady Tammy Murphy headlining a fundraiser Wednesday night for an organization-backed challenger in a contest where an incumbent lost party support.
The incumbent, Thomas H. Hannen, Jr., is running off the line in a bid to win re-election to a fourth term. He faces the organization choice, Kate Rappa, in the June 8 primary.
Hannen was not given an opportunity to appear before the local screening committee, the New Jersey Globe has learned.
Murphy has been making endorsements in local races this year, backing candidates on organization slates he heads against off the line opponents.
In Edison, Murphy is backing Sam Joshi for mayor against Mahesh Bhagia, embattled Democratic municipal chairman. The governor is backing Egg Harbor City Mayor Lisa Jiampetti for Atlantic County Clerk in a contested primary against Mico Lucide. Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty, facing a perennial candidate loosely backed by the local police union, has won Murphy’s support.
In the state’s hottest primary, the race for the Democratic State Senate nomination in the 37th district, Murphy endorsed Assemblyman Gordon Johnson over Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle. This is the contest to pick retiring Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg’s successor.
The decision to replace Hannen, a longtime Democratic official who served as mayor of Winfield in the 1970s and 1980s, was made by Cranford Democratic Municipal Chair Bette Jane Kowalski. Kowalski, a longtime Union County Commissioner, wanted a fresh face who were more in line with the other Democrats on the Township Committee.
Democrats said that the 65-year-old Hannen has an independent streak that has stressed his relationship with the local Democratic party.
Mayor Kathleen Miller Prunty has also endorsed Rappa, saying she has the “temperament of a leader.”
“She is smart, open-minded, innovative and take a very thoughtful approach to decision making,” Miller Prunty said in a statement. “We deserve elected officials who understand both the challenges and opportunities for Cranford and who are able to plan a future that is sustainable and enhance the quality of life of residents of all ages.”
A former Cranford mayor, Hannen was the Democratic candidate for State Assembly in 1983. He finished fourth that year, running more than 14,000 votes behind incumbents Bob Franks (R-New Providence) and Maureen Ogden (R-Millburn).
His father, Thomas H. Hannen, Sr., had also served as the mayor of Winfield. He won a six-candidate race for the Democratic State Assembly nomination in 1969 but lost the general election to incumbents Peter McDonough (R-Plainfield) and Herbert Kiehn (R-Rahway) by more than 10,000 votes in a heavily Republican year.
Just before the start of the event, the Rappa campaign tossed Hannen’s campaign treasurer, Dr. Christopher Chapman, from the virtual fundraiser even though he paid to attend,
Chapman is also the president of the local NAACP chapter and a Democratic county committeeman. He has asked for his money back.
“It would have been nice to get to know you and your positions of various issues facing Cranford and marginalized people of Cranford from the kick-off of your campaign,” Chapman told Rappa in an email last night.”
Rappa told the New Jersey Globe that she was unaware that Chapman was not allowed in, since she was not running the Zoom meeting.
“I don’t view myself as running against Tom Hannen. I’m running for a township committee seat because there is a lot I would like to accomplish,” Rappa said.