In the special election for Union County Democratic Chairman last month, Nicholas Scutari won in a landslide: 412 to 341 over Colleen Mahr. In a race where you can count all 753 possible votes, a ten-point win is decisive; often candidates drop out if their internal counts are so far away from winning to spare their political allies the penalties that come from backing the wrong person.
In the aftermath, one Freeholder who backed Mahr, Mohamed Jalloh, looks to be out of a job; another is retiring, presumably to help Scutari take full control of the party.
Scutari’s win was helped by running up the score in the largest municipalities. He won 98% in Elizabeth (111-2), 98% in Rahway (47-1), 79% in Roselle (27-7), 71% in Linden (50-20); and 65% in Plainfield (40-22). Those five cities brought Scutari 275 votes – 68% of what he needed to win.
Then Scutari swept two towns where he has a close relationship with the municipal chairs: Berkeley Heights (20-0), where the party is run by former Union County Manager George Devanney; and Kenilworth (10-0), where Sheriff Peter Corvelli chairs the local Democratic party. He carried Scotch Plains 34-5 (87%) and New Providence 14-4 (78%). Those four towns gave Scutari another 78 votes—putting him just 26 votes away from the magic 50%+1 number.
Mahr loaded up votes in Union Township, where all 93 county committee members voted for her. State Sen. Joseph Cryan, the Union Township Democratic Chairman, delivered more than 1 out of every four votes Mahr got (27%). She took Summit with 94% (32-2) and Westfield with 89% (40-5). In Hillside, where Democratic Municipal Chairman Anthony Salters dropped his bid for county chairman and endorsed Mahr, she won 67% (14-7).
Mahr also won a bunch of smaller towns: 19-7 in Clark; 12-1 in Fanwood; 5-1 in Garwood; 12-0 in Mountainside; and 18-0 in Roselle Park. She won Winfield 3-0, even though the municipal chair, Margaret McManus, has originally endorsed Scutari. That brought Mahr to 248 and Scutari to 376.
The remainder of the towns were closer: Scutari and Mahr tied in Cranford, 23-23, where Democratic Municipal Chairman John Salerno endorsed Scutari but was unable to deliver a plurality of his own county committee votes to his preferred candidate. Scutari won Springfield by four votes, 13-9 (59%).
But sometimes races are closer than they appear. Scutari and Mahr each carried ten towns and they split Cranford. When it comes to endorsing candidates for the organization line, each town has a single vote. So Elizabeth Democratic Municipal Chairman Tony Teixeira has the same clout as McManus in Winfield, despite the population difference of 123,498.
Jalloh comes from Union and was originally Cryan’s pick to serve on the Board of Freeholders. He’s out because of that relationship – and because some viewed him as a little less than a team player during his six years in county government. His likely replacement is former Roselle Councilwoman Andrea Staten, a close political ally of Assemblyman Jamal Holley (D-Roselle). Holley is a staunch Scutari supporter.
The specifics of Bergen’s retirement are a bit hazy—Scutari says he wants to spend more time building his law firm. Bergen had endorsed Scutari for county chairman. But his exit offers Scutari the opportunity to extend an olive branch to Westfield, where he got smoked last month.
Scutari’s proposed freeholder candidate, Kim Palmieri-Mouded, is from Westfield. She got 42% in a 2015 Ward 4 council race. Palmieri-Mouded was one of the five members of the Westfield Democratic County Committee who voted for Scutari. The thinking is that the presence of a woman from Westfield on the freeholder ticket would make it less likely for Westfield Democratic Municipal Chair Janice Siegel to back another candidate.
One issue that has already come up for Palmieri-Mouded is her family’s status as a county vendor. Her father, a generous contributor to Democratic campaigns, has financial services contracts with Union County, the Union County Utilities Authority, and the Union County Improvement Authority. She would be required to abstain on all discussions and votes regarding these contracts.
Union County Democrats are expected to vote on freeholder candidates on Wednesday evening, at a vote of a sort-of executive committee that Scutari appears to control.
Editor’s Note: These numbers reflect that actual attendance at the special election for county chairman. Union County has 431 districts (862 possible seats), and 18 vacancies. Of the 844 seats filled, 757 county committee members (90%) participated in the election.