Rockaway Township Republicans have selected three potential mayoral candidates to replace Michael Puzio, who suddenly resigned this month with nearly two years left in his term.
Acting mayor Joe Jackson was the top vote-getter at a county committee meeting on Thursday 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 township council now has 30 days to pick one of the three names, or the vote will revert back to the local party.
Jackson, the council president, became acting mayor immediately following Puzio’s departure.
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.
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).
In 2019, Puzio faced a primary challenge from Councilman Tucker Kelley. He won with 65% of the vote.
If Jackson becomes mayor, Republicans will need to fill his at-large council seat.