LINDEN – In Linden, it’s Mayor Derek Armstead against the world, or – more specifically – against the county.
The incumbent mayor faces two primary challengers, 10th Ward Councilwoman Gretchen Hickey and 4th Ward Councilwoman Rhoshonna Cosby, who Armstead beat in the 2014 primary.
But, despite Cosby’s past statements to the contrary, Armstead views the councilwoman as a spoiler candidate put into the race by the County establishment to siphon votes from his supporters.
Armstead and Cosby, both lacking the support of Union County Democratic Chairman Nicholas Scutari, a state senator and the Linden Democratic municipal chairman, bestowed on Hickey, occupy a similar anti-establishment niche that could split voters between the two and give Hickey an easier run at the nomination.
“We know that we’re running against Gretchen Hickey, and we feel very strong about the fact that Scutari has convinced Rhashonna Cosby to also be in the race, who’s also a county employee, so she can be a spoiler candidate to take votes away from my district and my supporters,” Armstead said. “We feel very strongly that that’s what their game plan is.”
The primary race so far has been somewhat nasty, with opponents largely lobbin accusations at one another instead of running on the issues, Armstead said.
Armstead largely has himself to blame for losing the support of Scutari, who is also the Linden Democratic Chairman.
Though he initially indicated that he would back the state senator in a contest for control of the Union County Democratic Party, he flipped to support Colleen Mahr after being offered her old position as vice chair if she won.
She didn’t, and Scutari took county leadership in February. And though Armstead contests the version of events above – saying that his not supporting Scutari dealt with what he saw as the senator’s self-serving intentions – the relationship between the two has nonetheless been soured by the episode.
“We really haven’t spoken other than passing in the hallways in city hall, which is surprising when you think about at the night of the election for Democratic chairman, he gave a big dissertation about bringing the party back together,” Armstead said. “Despite all that, all he’s done since then is try to destroy the party.”
The destruction Armstead is referring to deals with Scutari dropping Union County Freeholder Mohamed Jalloh from the party line. Jalloh, like Armstead, backed Mahr in the race for control of the county organization.
Scutari and Union County Democrats executive director Nick Fixmer did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment made at 10:34 a.m. and 10:37 a.m., respectively. This article will be updated with comment when it is received.
Still, the party support might not break Armstead’s chances in Tuesday’s election. He’s won contests like this one off the line in the past, winning against establishment-backed candidates in his run for city council in 2008 and in the 2010 and 2014 mayoral primaries.
“That’s just the man who I am. I’ve always been a person who’s stood on my own,” Armstead said. “It’s really not about me being mayor or me being at the top of someone’s hierarchy structure. It’s really what’s best for these communities.”