Sleepy Primary Promises Some Storms

STATE — A battle royale brewing in the 20th Legislative District appears to have blown over, as state Senator Raymond Lesniak faces a challenge from a little-known banker instead of popular Elizabeth school board President Tony Monteiro.

Lesniak’s only challenger will be Roselle Board of Education President Donna ObĂ©, an assistant vice president at Citibank who previously worked at Goldman Sachs.

Meanwhile, political insiders are trying to toss aside incumbent mayors in Edison and Plainfield.

Edison Mayor Antonia “Toni” Ricigliano is running without support from the regular Middlesex County political organization, which has endorsed Council member Thomas Lanke.

Four years ago, Ricigliano received 378 votes more than her opponent, Mayor Jun Choi, who was running for a second four-year term without the endorsement of the party establishment.

Union County political bosses have not only turned aside Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, but they have also over-ruled the local Democratic organization in Roselle.

The organization endorsed Plainfield Councilman Adrian Mapp to be the Queen City’s next mayor, picking him over the two-term incumbent, Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

Roselle Democrats selected Cecilia Dallis Ricks as their nominee for Council at Large, but party bosses at the county level decided to back Christine Dansereau instead.

Dansereau was appointed to the position by Mayor Jamel Holley and she will be contested by former Councilwoman Sylvia Turnage.

Turnage can boast of a long list of accomplishments during her tenure as a council member, including a $2.5 million grant for neighborhood stabilization that helped refinance mortgages and purchase foreclosed properties.

Dansereau was among the council members who gave themselves a 66 percent pay hike and her lesbian domestic partner, Laurie Harrod, was hired to a city job last year.

Two other 20th Legislative District incumbents enjoy a free ride courtesy of political boss Rafael Fajardo, whose allies talked three women out of running against Lesniak and his running mates, Assemblyman Joe Cryan and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, by suggesting that a divided opposition would have little chance for success.

Then the Fajardo team failed to file Assembly candidates, fueling speculation that Cryan cut a deal with the political faction that dominates the Elizabeth Board of Education.

Union County voters will have three slates of county freeholder from which to choose.

Democrats for Change Jacqueline Williams, Charles Cascone and Janet Reynolds are aligned with Carl Bergmanson, a 52-year-old computer consultant who was mayor of Glen Ridge from 2004 to 2008, and finished second behind Jon Corzone in the 2009 primary for governor.

The regular political organization has endorsed incumbent Freeholders Bette Jane Kowalski and Linda Carter, who will be joined by newcomer Sergio Granados. The Fajardo faction will include Councilman Carlos Cedeno; Richard Starling, the pastor of Christ Community Church in Union; and Madeline Fajardo, the political boss’ daughter.

A spokesperson for Democrats for Change said the financial industry executive would have to prove that she is a better alternative before the group would consider supporting her over Lesniak.

“Bailouts for millionaires who dragged the global economy into a recession is the root cause for most of our problems and after Jon Corzine, voters must be skeptical of politicians from the financial industry,” said James Devine, a Democrats for Change strategist. “While Lesniak has been in office a long time, he did abolish the death penalty, enact tough environmental laws and stand in the vanguard of civil rights movement.”

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