It looks like Linden Mayor Derek Armstead has really poked the bear, picking an immense fight with his most powerful constituent just a month before the filing deadline for his re-election campaign.
The thing is that Armstead’s powerful constituent is Nicholas Scutari, who right now is at the pinnacle of his political power. He is a five-term state senator, chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, Linden Democratic Municipal Chairman, and since last month, the Union County Democratic Chairman.
Now Scutari has the chance for some payback. He’s certain to dump Armstead from the Union County Democratic organization line, forcing the incumbent to fight it out in the Democratic primary – a venue that appears to favor Scutari. Several candidates are interested, including 5th Ward Councilwoman Rashonna Cosby and 10th Ward Councilwoman Gretchen Hickey. Sources say that Scutari has not decided on a candidate yet.
It was in the race for chairman that Armstead really got on Scutari’s bad side. Armstead initially committed his endorsement to Scutari, but on the same day found himself a better deal from Colleen Mahr and jumped ship. Mahr told Armstead that if she wins the county chair race, she would back him for her old job as vice chairman. Armstead took the deal – as if being vice chairman really matters all that much.
At the end of the day, Armstead’s endorsement didn’t matter all that much. Scutari carried Linden with 71% of the vote, with Armstead helping Mahr pick up just 20 of Linden’s 70 votes.
Now Armstead says he will reach out to Scutari to figure out how they can work together “to move Linden forward.”
“The politics must end,” Armstead said.
But sources say that Scutari has not heard from the mayor, and that the real problem is that he will never trust Armstead. That makes it impossible for the mayor to put the genie back in the bottle.
Armstead took a huge hit this week when popular two-term 9th Ward Councilman Armando Medina announced that he had changed his mind and would not run on Armstead’s ticket in the June primary and withdrew his support for Armstead’s slate.
“I support Chairman Scutari 100%,” Medina told the New Jersey Globe.
Medina also took a shot at Armstead, saying that his constituents expect independent leadership and that his supporters felt that “joining the Mayor’s team compromised that independence.”
Armstead has pledged continue supporting Medina, even if the councilman is backing someone else in the Democratic mayoral primary. That means Armstead won’t run a candidate against Medina in June, leaving the 9th Ward slot open.
“I am a man of my word,” Armstead said. “I have pledged and will continue to support Councilman Medina.”
Armstead won’t be easy to beat. He’s considered a strong presence on the campaign trail and has a significant base of support in Linden, where he served four terms on the City Council before becoming mayor.
But Scutari has shown his willingness to hold elected officials accountable for backing a rival candidate. On Sunday, Union County Democrats dropped two-term Freeholder Mohamed Jalloh from the organization line after Jalloh supported Mahr for county chair.
Linden has a recent history of close mayoral elections. Richard Gerbounka, an independent, ousted legendary 33-year incumbent John Gregorio in 2006 by 113 votes, and then won a second term in 2010 by just 159 votes against Armstead. Armstead – with Scutari’s help – beat Gerbounka in 2014 by 369 votes.