Three candidates will compete in a special election on Wednesday to replace Jerry Green as Union County Democratic Chairman. Insiders say that State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) is ahead of Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, the acting county chair, and Hillside Democratic Municipal Chairman Anthony Salters. But in the absence of an independent town-by-town head count of actual commitments from county committee members, only the candidates know exactly where they stand.
Scutari has the edge, based on endorsements and public declarations, but even with the backing of municipal chairs from four of the five big towns – Elizabeth, Plainfield, Rahway and Linden – Scutari has still not been able to push Mahr out of the race. Both sides know how to count.
Turnout in special election for intra-party contests play more prominently than in a regularly scheduled one – meaning that if five votes figured in one candidates head count don’t show up, and the other candidate picks up five that weren’t expected to participate, then the swing is potentially significant.
Both sides have been working at filling county committee vacancies in advance of the February 21 contest.
The most important factor is that voters in this kind of election sometimes lie, making an accurate head count difficult. That’s one of the reasons the Scutari and Mahr camps are headed to court in advance of the election to settle an issue of how the votes are cast. Scutari wants a literal interpretation of the by-laws that require all towns to cast their ballots publicly, while Mahr wants a machine vote.
If no candidate gets 50% on the first ballot, there is a runoff between the two top vote getters.
Green resigned the chairmanship last month for health reasons but plans to hold on to his State Assembly seat. The winner of the special election will fill the remainder of Green’s term, which expires in June 2019.
If Scutari wins, Mahr will return to her post as vice chair. If Mahr wins, the county committee will hold another vote to replace her. She has already endorsed Linden Mayor Derek Armstead for the vice chairmanship.