Kearny may get its first new mayor in nearly 24 years if Gov. Phil Murphy nominates Alberto Santos as a Superior Court Judge.
Santos is under active consideration for a judgeship, the New Jersey Globe has learned, but has not yet reached the stage where a background check has been conducted
Murphy has agreed to name Santos, assuming background checks and approvals from the Hudson County Bar Association come through, and the Hudson County senators are already on board, according to sources familiar with the nomination process. That would mean a relatively clean confirmation process.
If Santos is nominated and confirmed before September 12, a November 2023 special election will determine who serves the remaining 25 months of Santos’ term as mayor. But if Santos goes to the bench after that date, it would push the special election to November 2024.
The Democratic nominee, who will become the immediate favorite to win the general election, will be picked by the Kearny Democratic county committee. Santos is the Democratic municipal chairman, a post he will need to give up once he becomes a judge.
Once Santos resigns as mayor, Council President Carol Jean Doyle (who lost a bid for mayor in 1995) will become run council meetings until the Democratic county committee meets to select three candidates to submit to the town council. The interim mayor, if he or she is not the choice of the party to run for the post in the next election, would serve until the results of the 2023 general election are certified in November.
There are a number of sitting members of the town council who could emerge as mayoral candidates.
The 57-year-old Santos spent one year as a Kearny councilman before winning the election as mayor in 1999. He defeated former First Ward Councilman Edward Callahan by a 40%-34% margin, with 70-year-old incumbent Peter McIntyre running third with 26%. McInyre had scored a narrow upset win over a local legend, Republican Mayor Leo Vartan, in 1997 by roughly 100 votes, 50.6% to 49.4%.
Kearny is the last Hudson municipality to elect a Republican mayor in a partisan election.
Santos has won three re-election bids for two-year terms and four times for terms of four years after the town changed its law.
He faced a tough fight in 2003 when the Hudson County Democratic Organization backed Third Ward Councilman James Mangin and pushed him out to Line E after he considered a primary challenge against State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-North Bergen). But despite Ballot Siberia, Santos romped to a 64% victory.
A graduate of Georgetown University and New York University Law School, Santos practiced at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, at Saiber, Schlesinger, Satz & Goldstein, and at the Center for Constitutional Rights. He is the longtime clerk of the Hudson County Board of Commissioners.
Kearny has a population of 40,370 after the 2020 census; the town’s Hispanic population is at 55%, up from 40% over a ten-year period.