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Daily newspapers barely cover legislative races

Editorials might presume to tell voters who to vote for without reporters covering the race

By David Wildstein, October 26 2019 7:00 pm

Ten days before the General Election, local daily newspapers in New Jersey have hardly covered key legislative races in New Jersey – even though some may still presume to tell readers how they should vote on November 5.

Several candidates have reported meeting with editorial board in pursuit of newspaper endorsements that may have little effect, considering dwindling circulation and a rapidly growing number of votes already cast by mail.

The Daily Record, a Gannett-owned Morris County newspaper, has published just two stories on the 25th district Assembly race since the June primary – both about Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) taking his late father’s State Senate seat.

Another Gannett newspaper, The (Bergen) Record, has run two stories on the race: each picking up negative attacks made by Bucco against his Democratic opponents, physician Lisa Bhimani and full-time farmer Darcy Draeger.

While the northjersey.com website ran both of those stories, they did not run in the print editions of either the Bergen Record.  The Daily Record picked up both of those stories in the print edition, but not on their website.

Similarly, The Daily Record has not covered the 21st district Assembly race, where incumbents Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) and Nancy Munoz are in a tough race to hold their seats against Democrats Lisa Mandelblatt and Stacey Gunderman.

The Daily Record has barely mentioned Bramnick this year, even though the Minority leader’s district includes part of the Daily Record circulation area.

The newspaper acknowledged that Bramnick attended the funeral services of State Sen. Anthony R. Bucco (R-Boonton) in September, and listed him as a candidate for re-election.

The Bergen Record wrote about Bramnick five times in 2019: a news story and a Charlie Stile column on Bramnick’s law firm offering to “discredit” victims of sexual assault, one on campaign spending, and a fourth on where Democrats are looking to flip Assembly seats.

The Daily Record print edition picked up the Stile column and the stories on spending and the battleground districts, but not the one about controversial language on his law firm’s website.

The third Gannett paper in Bramnick’s district, The Courier News, has not mentioned Bramnick on their mycentraljersey.com website since April 2018.  It picked up the Bramnick law firm story and the one on campaign spending in their print edition, but not Stile’s column.

The Courier-News, which covers Somerset, Hunterdon and Union counties, has not covered the 16th district race at all, except for reprinting stories from The Record in their print editions.  Those stories did not appear on the Courier News website.

In July, another Gannett paper, the Vineland-based Daily Journal, covered 1st district GOP State Senate candidate Michael Testa’s plan to distribute recalled Nike sneakers to the homeless.  Other than that, the only Senate contest in the state has generated no news stories.

Testa’s challenge to State Sen. Bob Andrzejczak (D-Middle) is the only Senate race in the state this year.  Also at stake are two Democratic Assembly seats – perhaps the only two where Republicans stand a shot at winning.

In the Monmouth County-based 11th district, which is potentially competitive but not actually in play, the Asbury Park press has covered the Assembly race just once.

Still, the Asbury Park Press today endorsed Republicans Mike Amoroso and Matt Woolley over incumbents Eric Houghtaling (D-Neptune) and Joann Downey (D-Freehold).

A story written by a Bergen Record reporter about legislative campaign spending also appeared in the Monmouth daily newspaper.

The Bergen Record ran a story about the Bergen County-based 39th district Assembly race in July, but has not written specifically about it since; the contest was mentioned in a story about statewide spending and political opportunities.

In the 39th, incumbents Holly Schepisi (R-River Vale) and Bob Auth (R-Old Tappan) face Westwood Mayor John Birkner and Emerson Councilman Gerald Falotico.

At the same time, the Bergen Record sent at least six reporters to cover the opening of the American Dream mall.  The offered intensive coverage of the Stew Leonard’s grand opening as well.

The Star-Ledger reported on Bucco’s decision to move up to the Senate and on Bramnick’s strategy to discredit sexual assault victims, but not specifically on the 21st and 25th district Assembly races.

Columnist Paul Mulshine wrote about Bucco’s decision to move up to the State Senate while remaining in the race for an Assembly seat he has no intention of taking.

The Star-Ledger did run a complete list of candidates who filed to run for the Legislature in April, a massive research project that must have fully taxed their refined journalistic skills.

Some local daily newspapers have provided strong coverage of legislative elections – perhaps by no coincidence, they are the ones not owned by the Gannett and NJ Advance Media chains.

The Burlington County Times has regularly covered the 8th district Assembly race, where Democrats are trying to flip two Assembly seats.   Incumbent Ryan Peters (R-Hainesport) and former Burlington County Sheriff Jean Stanfield face Democrats Gina LaPlaca and Mark Natale.

In the 2nd district, The Press of Atlantic City has provided some coverage of the race for State Assembly, where incumbents Vince Mazzeo (D-Northfield) and John Armato (D-Buena Vista) face Republican challengers John Risley, an Atlantic County freeholder, and Brigantine Mayor Phil Guenther.

To be clear, no daily newspaper in the state has provided more in-depth coverage of a local race than the Trentonian, which is close-covering the Hamilton mayoral contest between incumbent Kelly Yaede and Democrat Jeff Martin.

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