UNION COUNTY — Democrats in Linden and Rahway will have competitive races in the June 3 primary election, as Democrats for Change reformers again pose challenges to the regular political organization.
Three mayoral candidates are vying for support in Linden, including 5th Ward Councilwoman Rhashonna Cosby-Hurling, 7th Ward Democratic District Leader Michael Puzio and 4th Ward Councilman Derek Armstead.
In Rahway, James J. Devine is mounting a challenge to Samson Steinman, who was appointed Hillside township administrator soon after he was selected as the interim replacement for Mayor Rick Proctor, who quit the job in September.
Devine spearheaded the Democrats for Change movement after falling out with political insiders in 2006, but he managed all of former Mayor Jim Kennedy’s re-election campaigns.
Steinman lept from one taxpayer-funded job to another since his first election in 2002, as member of the Rahway school board, while also climbing the political ladder to city council and being appointed as interim mayor.
Among the posts Steinman held were office manager at the local motor vehicle agency, assistant city treasurer in Linden and executive director of the Union County Performing Arts Center. Steinman was named township administrator by Mayor Angela Garretson and the Hillside council, who have been at odds on personnel matters since she was sworn into office, as part of a deal worked out among political insiders.
Devine’s Democrats for Change running mates include Dr. Yvonne Wesley, a nurse who sought election to the city council four years ago, and Lisa McCormick, who came close to winning the nomination for county clerk in 2010 as one of the slate’s leading candidates.
The regular political organization is backing incumbent James Baker, a Union County employee, Jeremy Mojica, who failed to win a full term in the 2013 election after being appointed to the Rahway school board, and Joanna Miles, whose qualifications are being contested because she only recently became an American citizen.
Candidates are required to be registered to vote and residents of the city where they are running for at least one year, so Devine lodged an objection with Rahway City Clerk Jeffrey Jotz.
After an unsuccessful 2007 campaign, Cosby-Hurling won her council seat under the Democrats for Change banner in 2010 but swiftly fell into line as an instrument of party bosses once she was elected to the governing body.
Armstead was also a Democrats for Change candidate when he won the nomination four years ago but in November, he failed to unseat incumbent Mayor Richard Gerbounka, who recently declared that he wants a third term.
Puzio, an economist employed at Bloomberg LP who was a campaign intern for US Senator Menendez in 2006 while attending Rutgers University, successfully prevented construction of a coal burning 400 megawatt power plant that was proposed for construction in the city.
According to an organizer with the reform movement, Puzio is replacing Armstead as this year’s Democrats for Change choice because the 4th Ward Councilman “is woefully unprepared and unlike both of the other contenders, he is not a county employee.”
In the contest for council president, Cosby-Hurling shares her column with Jorge Alvarez, Armstead is running with Richard Puschel and Puzio is allied with Carmen Sanchez-Southward, who came close to being elected freeholder in 2010 under the label Democrats for Change and missed winning a school board seat in 2011 by just 20 votes.
Cosby-Hurling, Alvarez, Armstead and Puschel are all county government workers while Puzio is the only private sector employee running citywide in Linden.
Councilman Peter Brown Jr. aborted his announced candidacy after allegations surfaced in SEC documents suggesting that he was dismissed from a banking industry job for stealing $9,000.
Although former school board member Jacqueline Williams said she was running for mayor, Gerbounka announced that she would join him as a contender for city council president.
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