Primary Choices Are Good For Democracy

Citizens only have real power over party bosses when serious candidates seek party nominations in primary elections, where voters and not power brokers get to decide who is going to hold public office.

The marathon competition for the presidency being waged by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is one example how things get done in a democracy.

This June, Democrats will face a host of choices that really test whether the party is ready to end “politics as usual” and elect new leaders who will make real changes for New Jersey.

At the top of the ballot, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg is being challenged for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination by Morristown Mayor Donald Cresitello and U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews of Camden.

Challengers are popping up in other key Union County races, where Democrats will have a choice between sticking with political insiders or choosing new candidates who are independent of the corrupted county organization.

Incumbent freeholders Angel Estrada, Rick Proctor and Nancy Ward will face challengers Carmen Southward, Elizabeth Councilman Carlos Cedeño and Marlene Abitanto.

Southward is president of Union County We The People, an organization whose focus is charitable work, civic awareness and social responsibility. Cedeño is a minister who served on the school board and Abitanto is an administrator with the city’s public school system.

Locally, Elizabeth Democrats also have a choice to stay the course or embrace change.

Newcomer Edward Bryant Koon, a senior officer at the county’s juvenile detention center, is seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor.

The first-time candidate says violent crime is not being adequately addressed and he questions the economic benefits for residents that have resulted from redevelopment achievements often touted by the incumbent.

Running alongside Koon are former councilman Sammy Rodriguez, school board President Armando DaSilva and George O’Grady.

O’Grady was stripped of a victory in the June 2006 city council primary in the Second Ward as a result of legal manipulations executed by political insiders and lawyers acting on behalf of Mayor J. Christian Bollwage.

Meanwhile, Bollwage hopes to extend his lease on the executive office at City Hall to 20 years, leading a slate that includes incumbent council members Edward Jackus, Patricia Perkins-Auguste and Frank J. Cuesta.

An elected official in city government for a decade before he was elected to his current post, Bollwage has helped developers acquire land and government bond funding plus he established several new taxes and special districts that levy extra assessments on commercial property owners.

Like Bollwage, who has a part time taxpayer-funded job at Kean University, Jackus and Cuesta each receive multiple public paychecks as school administrators, leading some to speculate that unethical double-dipping may surface as an issue.

Voters, not party bosses, should decide who is elected. When there are multiple candidates running in the primary, it means voters don’t just have to accept whoever party insiders anoint.

That’s a good thing in a democracy—it’s power for the people rather than more influence for the powerful.

All the choices in this primary should be a compelling reason for voters to get to the polls on June 3.

If citizens, by not voting, allow corrupt political bosses to decide who should run for office they are asking for a government that serves greed instead of Democratic or Republican ideals.

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