Make no mistake, this is no warette. It’s a war – a full-fledged, combat-filled, boots-on-the-ground, deplete the warchest, take no prisoners, annihilate the enemy war – for control of the Democratic machine in Roseland, a suburban Essex County town with a population of 5,819.
Former Gov. Richard Codey has fielded a ticket of nine candidates for county committee in his hometown who are running off the line in a battle for control of the local Democratic party. The slate is trying to wrestle control from Democratic Municipal Chairman Julius “Jay” Coltre. Coltre works for the Essex County purchasing department under County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, a bitter Codey rival and also a resident of Roseland.
What’s really at stake here is DiVincenzo’s own hold on Essex County, where he wants to protect his option of running for a sixth term in 2022. The time could come where urban Democrats want to change the leader — sort of like Tom DeGise in Hudson County — and DiVincenzo wants to have as many chits as possible. It’s easier for him to stack the deck in a place like Roseland, which has a dozen county committee seats, then to try and pick up an equal number of seats in Newark.
Codey is giving up his own 1st district seat on the Roseland Democratic County Committee and wants his son, former committeeman Kevin Codey, to succeed him. But Coltre gave the line to John McGovern, who spent five years as Codey’s legislative aide before a failed restaurant venture turned the two friends into bitter enemies.
Coltre, a former Essex County Undersheriff, moved to Roseland after winning just 45% of the vote in his race for Burlington County Sheriff in 2010. Insiders say that he is trying to stack the deck on behalf of DiVincenzo, his employer.
McGovern, whose family owns McGovern’s Tavern in Newark, is running on the line with his wife. Kevin Codey is running on the “Roseland Democrats for Change” line with Dick Codey’s former running mate, incumbent County Committeewoman Manuela Gonnella.
The Roseland Democrats for Chang slate is challenging the candidates backed by the Essex County Democratic Committee in five of six districts. Passes are being given to Councilman Christopher Bardi, and to 6th district incumbents Eileen and Sanford Fishman. One of his candidates, Ann Marie Callahan, is the wife of Superior Court Judge Tom Callahan.
The organization candidates for mayor and borough council are unopposed in the Democratic primary. The candidate for mayor is James Spango, whose mother, Patty Spango, is a former West Orange council president and Democratic Municipal Chair. She is also the owner of a local institution, the Starlite Restaurant and Pizzeria.
In district 3, Callahan will face incumbent Maria Jorge, who also works for DiVincenzo. There is an open seat race in the 4th district, where George Meleas and Jessica Freda will run on the line against Codey candidates Joseph Rolli and Susan Butterfield. In district 5, incumbents Victor Rotunda and Maria Tutela face a challenge from Codey-backed candidates Konstantinos Ntoufas and Kimberly Carroll.
Codey has served in the Legislature for 45 years, including twelve terms in the Senate, a decade as Senate President, and fourteen months as Governor of New Jersey.
Roseland Republicans also face a contested local primary: school board member Jean Perrotti has the organization line against former Mayor Michael Pacio, and four candidates are competing for two council seats.