A lawyer is seeking to disqualify the nominating petitions filed by Freeholder Anthony Romano for the Hoboken mayoral race on the grounds that Romano is also pursuing re-election to his county office this November and is slated to appear twice on the ballot in Hoboken.
On behalf of a client, attorney Eric Dixon wrote in a letter to the Hoboken city clerk that “state law prohibits not only the simultaneous holding of multiple elected offices, but also the simultaneous candidacies for multiple elected offices in the same election.”
A different official, Hudson County Counsel Donato Battista, says Romano can run for both offices at once. But Dixon says state law is clear and unambiguous, barring any candidate except ones for lieutenant governor from appearing twice on the ballot.
Dixon is representing Patricia Waiters, a Hoboken resident who ran against Romano in the June 2017 Democratic freeholder primary. In that primary, Romano was endorsed by the Hudson County Democratic Organization and given the county line on the ballot. He beat Waiters by 60 points.
“She has the right to file whatever papers she wants,” said Romano spokesman Pablo Fonseca. “She is part of a wannabe candidate’s political apparatus and there have been numerous promises to her of employment. It is up to them what they do. We follow everything to the letter of the law.”
Waiters denied that she has any connection to any candidate opposing Romano.
“For the record, I was not promised a position with none of the candidates,” she said via email. According to Waiters, she has been in a more than 10-year dispute with Hudson County due to a 2005 termination from her job at the Hudson County Correctional Facility. She said Romano “is well aware of it so him lieing (sic) about me getting a Job is Bull s#/^*.”
In his letter, Dixon cites a state statute prohibiting candidates from “accepting nominations by petition” for more than one office during a single election. Dual office-holding is prohibited in New Jersey by a separate law, and, if Romano is allowed to run for and then wins both races, he would have to choose to continue as a freeholder or become Hoboken’s next mayor.
As a defense, Romano’s campaign has cited Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver’s decision to run for re-election to her Assembly seat and as the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor this year. Dixon argues that is a false equivalence because Oliver was nominated by petition only for her Assembly seat. She was selected by Democratic nominee Phil Murphy to be his running mate. Both offices Romano seeks are nominated by petition.
Dixon on Aug. 22 sent another letter to the Hudson County Clerk’s Office and the state attorney general on behalf of an unnamed Hoboken resident with a similar challenge to Romano’s candidacy.
Hudson County Counsel Donato Battista issued a response to Dixon on Aug. 29, saying Romano had a right to run for both offices at the same time despite the provisions of state law Dixon was citing. Battista said that statute merely prohibits dual office-holding.
“Had the Legislature intended to prohibit candidates from running for more than one office, it would have specifically done so,” Battista wrote. “It is likely that the Legislature was aware that there would be times such as this where a candidate would seek to offices at the same time; it is not unusual.”
But the state law at issue says:
“No person may accept a nomination by petition in the manner provided by R.S. 19:13-8 or consent to the acceptance of a nomination in a petition for a primary election in the manner provided by R.S. 19:23-7, for more than one office to be filled at the same general election, the simultaneous holding of which would be prohibited by the constitution of the state of New Jersey or R.S. 19:3-5.”
Another mayoral candidate, Councilman Michael DeFusco, has blasted Romano repeatedly for his decision to appear on the ballot twice, claiming that he is potentially disenfranchising voters. If Romano wins both offices, he will likely choose to become the mayor of Hoboken, Fonseca has said. The freeholder seat would then be filled by the HCDO rather than by voters.
“Although I welcome all candidates to the race, the simple fact is that Freeholder Romano can’t simultaneously serve as Freeholder and Mayor, and thus is prohibited from running for both offices at the same time according to state statute,” DeFusco told Observer on Friday. “I appreciate that Ms. Waiters is shining a light on this compelling legal question and I, along with other citizens interest in good government, look forward to the city clerk’s response.”
The Hoboken City Clerk’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.