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State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden). (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Fight brewing over Linden polling places

Mayor claims Scutari behind superintendent’s move to shutter polling places in schools

By Nikita Biryukov, August 08 2018 9:37 am

Linden’s superintendent is facing fire after he unilaterally attempted to remove election-day polling places from the town’s schools, citing safety as the cause for doing so.

Danny Robertozzi, Linden’s superintendent, has unilaterally ruled to shutter the primary election polling places in Linden’s schools. Linden mayor Derek Armstead, City Council Members and members of the Linden School Board said he had done so without consulting the town’s Board of Education.

“This is voter suppression disguised as a school safety issue,” Armstead said. “This is wrong. This is un-American, especially since the school board has put processes in place to address school safety issues on primary election days.”

It’s not clear what’s behind the superintendent’s unilateral move on the issue, but Armstead had some suspicions.

The mayor called on State Sen. Nicholas Scutari, who is chairman of the Union County Democratic Organization, to condemn and reverse the move.

Armstead and Scutari have been at odds ever since the former backed someone else for county chair. Scutari’s victory in that race saw Armstead lose county support, though he beat the county’s candidate in June’s primary with 60% of the vote.

Though, the bad blood doesn’t appear to have died in the two months since then.

“The reality of Linden politics is that the majority on the School Board is aligned with Sen. Scutari. They are his people. Their campaigns are financed by the Linden and Union County Democratic Parties, both of which the senator chairs. Either he is behind this cynical move, or one of his fiefdoms is out of control,” Armstead said. “He can undo this with a phone call, and I strongly suggest that he do that right now.”

But, Scutari told the Globe Wednesday morning that he had not heard from any of the parties involved in the tiff.

Scutari added that he would also likely not support removing the polling places in Linden’s schools.

“I don’t know why they feel obligated to call me out on it when, number one, I had nothing to do with it, and number two, I’m certainly open to having a dialogue with the mayor or any elected officials in the town. I think I have a fair enough relationship with them,” Scutari said. “I’m happy to hear I have so much sway over the Linden School Board, but they did not discuss this matter with me.”

Two members of the Linden Board of Education, Katarzyna Kozak and Greg Martucci, said that Robertozzi falsely claimed the Board of Education requested such a change in letters to Linden residents, the Union County Board of Elections and Linden’s municipal clerk.

The two school board officials said that their group did not back the move made by Robertozzi, despite what the latter wrote in the letters.

“I have absolutely no evidence that at any time did any member of the public approach the Board of Education in person, through text or snail mail that the safety of our students and staff was a concern,” Martucci said. “I am further dismayed that this is the second time correspondence to the public has been released without formal action by the board of education.”

Similar declarations were made by linden Councilwomen Michelle Yamakaitis and Lisa Orman.

But, it’s not clear whether or not Robertozzi’s letter, dated Aug. 1, was ever sent. Scutari said he believed it had was only discussed in a closed-doors executive session and then leaked out my certain members of the School Board.

At the very least, it doesn’t seem like the hatchet over the fight for Linden’s mayorship is buried quite yet.

“I had lunch with him last week,” Scutari said, referring to Armstead. “So much for moving forward.”

Change in Polling location 8.2.18
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