New Jersey Legislative Races Heat Up

By John Celock

Primary elections impacting Democratic state legislators in Union County, N.J. are heating up with one team trumpeting a key endorsement and another launching a new ad.

In 20th legislative district in the eastern half of the county, Assemblywoman Annette Quijano (D-Elizabeth) and Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Roselle) are trumpeting an endorsement from the New Jersey Education Association in their competitive race. In the 22nd district, which stretches across the southern part of the county and includes parts of Somerset and Middlesex Counties, Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Plainfield) launched a new television ad in an effort to keep control of his local Democratic Party.

Quijano and Holley are locked in a competitive race in the largely urban 20th district, battling a faction of renegade Democrats – Tony Montiero and Giuliano Farina – tied to the Elizabeth Board of Education in the June primary. Quijano and Holley are aligned with the establishment Union County Democratic Party, which is chaired by Green.

The two, both graduates of the public schools, are trumpeting the support from the teachers’ union, saying that they want to work on education issues. In a release sent out by their campaign yesterday, the pair reiterated support for funding the teacher pension system, a top issue in New Jersey politics. Gov. Chris Christie (R) and the NJEA are currently locked in a battle over the pension system and whether Christie fully funded the system. Christie has proposed establishing new limits for the state contribution and shifting control over the pension from state government to the union.

Holley has long talked about his education background and the role education played in his life. In an email to supporters Tuesday morning, Holley said that the NJEA endorsement shows that he and Quijano are committed to teachers.

“This endorsement means a lot to me, because it represents the fact that Annette and I are the only team of progressive Democrats running in this race that truly have the interests of working families in mind,” Holley wrote in the email. “That’s why we are both committed to making sure our state keeps its promise to fund the state pension system and to fight for more funding for our public schools.”

In the 22nd district, Green released a new ad even though he does not have an opponent in the June primary. The ad focuses on Gursha Marcano-Brown, the mother of a Plainfield murder victim, talking about the aid that Green gave her after her son’s death. first reported the ad Tuesday morning.

“There was only one official who stepped up and helped me in my darkest hour,” Marcano-Brown said in the ad. “He fought for funding to put more police on the street and helped families of violent crime victims.”

While Green and running mate, former Rahway Mayor James Kennedy, do not face primary opposition, Green is in a battle for control of the Plainfield Democratic Party with Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp (D). The ad is the first posted on a YouTube account for Democrats in the 22nd district since an October 2013 ad touting Green, Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Linden) and Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-Scotch Plains) in their reelection campaign that year. In that ad, Green focused on property tax issues and let Scutari, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, take the lead on crime and public safety related issues.

Stender is not seeking reelection this year following revelations that she and her husband sought funds from Habitat for Humanity to build a new luxury home on the Jersey Shore following Hurricane Sandy. Kennedy was tapped by Union County Democratic leaders to replace Stender on the ticket, defeating Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr (D). Mahr, who is seeking a fourth mayoral term this year, had been approached by Mapp to oppose Green and Kennedy in the primary but declined.

Green also has a stake in the 20th district contest, which is the latest in a long running feud between the establishment faction of the county party, led by Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) and Elizabeth Mayor Chris Bollwage (D) and the renegade faction led by members of the Elizabeth Board of Education. The two factions have long opposed each other in 20th district races, along with races for various county government offices.

Quijano, a municipal prosecutor in Elizabeth, was first elected to the Assembly in 2008 and currently serves as chairwoman of the Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee. Holley, the public works director in Irvington, was appointed to the Assembly earlier this year after Democrat Joe Cryan resigned to become Union County sheriff. Holley is a former mayor of Roselle.