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Seven mayoral primaries to watch on June 8

By Nikita Biryukov, June 01 2021 5:10 pm

Voters in at least six New jersey municipalities are hosting closely watched races to pick their party’s candidates for local office next Tuesday.

In Atlantic City, Mayor Marty Small has the line against challenger Tom Foley.

Foley, a former Democratic Assemblyman  and freeholder who in March said he was proud to back former President Donald Trump for a second term, is running a slate of three at-large council candidates.

Substance abuse counselor Aaron Carrington, Casino Employee Suhel Ahmed and Shameeka Harvey on the “True Democrat” slate.

The Foley slate has the backing of the Atlantic City Democratic organization, which is headed by former Council President Craig Callaway, but Small is running with Gov. Phil Murphy on the organization line.  Murphy endorsed Small last week.

Councilman George Tibbitt, former Small campaign treasurer Stephanie Marshal and Small aide Bruce Weekes are running on the incumbent’s slate.

The City Council appointed Small to replace Mayor Frank Gilliam after he resigned his post in October 2019. Gilliam pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $87,000 from a youth basketball league he founded.

Small defeated longtime community activist Pamela Thomas-Fields last year to win the remainder of Gilliam’s unexpired term.

The winner of the primary will go on to face Republican Tom Forkin, who also ran for the mayorship last year.

Edison’s mayoral race has been defined by a racist mailer from 2017. There, Councilman Sam Joshi faces Edison Democratic Municipal Chairman Mahesh Bhagia in his bid to replace incumbent Thomas Lankey, who is not seeking another term.

Middlesex County Democrats awarded Joshi the line after growing increasingly uncomfortable with Bhagia’s alleged involvement in the drafting of a 2017 mailer that promised to “Make Edison Great Again” and warned the “Chinese and Indians are taking over our town.”

The mailer has spurred a state criminal investigation. Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Tuesday declined to say whether another race-baiting mailer, sent by Bhagia supporter and former Republican Woodcliff Lake Councilman Corrado Belgiovine, had been rolled into the probe.

The newer mail piece touted a prominent Pakistani community leader’s endorsement of Joshi, apparently seeking to tap into lingering resent related to the Partition of India of 1947, when colonial India was split into two states.

The partition saw widespread religious violence. As many as 2 million died, with between 10 and 20 million displaced.

Bhagia is running a slate of Council candidates that includes pipefitter Thomas McCann, School Board member Shannon Peng and former School Board candidate Sparshil Patel.

In an unusual step, Bhagia’s team is running candidates for state and county office. The “Democrats of Middlesex County” slate is headed by Edison School Board Vice President Mohin Patel, who is challenging State Sen. Pat Diegnan (D-South Plainfield).

The winner of the mayoral primary will go on to face Republican Keith Hahn. His Council running mates, Tali Epstein, Joseph Luistro and Payal Mehta are unopposed for the GOP Council nod.

Middlesex Democrats broke with the local party to award Joshi the line. Edison’s Democratic Committee backed Bhagia, its chairman, for the seat.

In addition to Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe, Joshi has won endorsements from Gov. Phil Murphy and U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker.

In Camden, Mayor Vic Carstarphen faces three challengers in his bid for a full term.

Councilwoman Felisha Reyes Morton, Camden School District advisory board member Elton Custis and Camden Housing Authority Commissioner Luis Quiñones are each seeking the city’s executive post.

Carstarphen has the Camden County Democratic line, while his challengers will appear together in column five. Three columns of empty space separate Carstarphen from his challengers.

The incumbent was appointed to fill the remainder of Mayor Frank Moran’s term after he resigned at the end of April. Camden’s Democratic Municipal Committee picked Carstarphen, an accountant at Cherry Hill-based Holmes & Company, to the seat early last month.

The contest is the most prominent fight between Camden County’s organization Democrats and their progressive opponents on the ballot this year.

New Jersey Working Families endorsed Custis on Tuesday, not long before Gov. Phil Murphy signaled he would endorse Carstarphen. None of the challengers are running a slate of council candidates.

Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos is facing his first primary challenge in more than a decade this year. Real estate agent Sydney Ferreira launched a campaign against the 22-year incumbent, focusing on property tax reductions.

He’s running three council candidates: Kristin McBrinn in the city’s 1st Ward, Kristen Grimaldi in its 3rd Ward and Stephanie Galarza in its 4th Ward. They’re campaigning under the slogan “The Change Kearny.”

Alexis Campos, Ferreira’s candidate in Kearny’s 2nd Ward, was knocked off the ballot because she did not meet the one-year residency requirement. She’s launched a write-in campaign.

All four council incumbents up for re-election this year — 1st Ward Councilwoman Marytrine DeCastro, 2nd Ward Councilman Richard Konopka, 3rd Ward Councilwoman Carol Jean Doyle and 4th Ward Councilman Gerald Ficeto — are running with Santos on the party line.

Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty is running for re-election against Esperanza Porras-Field, the founder of the Morris County Hispanic American Chamber of Commerce.

Dougherty has the line, and Porras-Field is running no council candidates. She sought a council seat herself in 2017 on a ticket headed by former Council President Michelle Dupree Harris. Dougherty’s slate won that contest, and it wasn’t particularly close.

The mayor could face headwinds over his wife’s legal troubles. Mary Dougherty was among charged with bribery in a state sting related to then-special counsel Matt O’Donnell. She was sentenced to one year of probation in March after pleading down to falsifying a campaign finance report.

The challenger has attacked Dougherty’s administration over “unethical” behavior. She faced her own troubles when a Morristown police officer let her daughter into Town Hall to drop off nominating petitions on April 5 after the 4 p.m. deadline had passed.

Republicans in Parsippany are having a standoff to see who will challenge Democratic Mayor Michael Soriano.

Former Councilman Louis Valori has the line for the GOP nod, but he faces a challenge from former Mayor James Barberio, who was ousted by Soriano in 2017. Valori lost his own re-election race that same year.

Morris County Young Republicans Chairman Justin Musella and former School Board member Gary Martin are running with Valori, while School Board president Frank Neglia and School Board member Deborah Orme have signed on to run with Barberio.

A fifth council candidate, Parsippany Economic Development Advisory Committee member Thomas Williams, is mounting his own off-the-line campaign.

In Lambertville, former Mayor David Del Vecchio is running to reclaim his seat against political newcomer Andrew Nowick. Incumbent Mayor Julia Fahl is not seeking re-election.

Del Vecchio, who served as mayor for 27 years before being losing to Fahl in 2018’s primary, is running on the Hunterdon County Democratic line. Nowick was appointed to the town’s community advisory team by Fahl and is making his bid off-the-line.

He isn’t bracketing with any other candidates.

This article was updated to include Lambertville’s mayoral primary at 6:02 p.m. on June 2.

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