If Jon Corzine’s U.S. Senate appointment creates a vacancy in the U.S. House of Representatives, look for a Special Election Primary on March 28 and a Special Election on May 16. Several lawyers familiar with Title 19 say that the state election law is somewhat ambiguous, but it appears Corzine, as Governor, has the option of bypassing the Special Election — a system used in most other states — and leaving the seat vacant until a November Special Election, on the same day as the General Election. New Jersey has not had a Special Election for Congress since 1950. House seats vacated when William Cahill (in January 1970) and James Florio (in January 1990) remained vacant until the November General Election, as did the vacancies caused by the deaths of Edwin Forsythe (in March 1984) and James Howard (in March 1988). Corzine will need to decide whether the right of 647,000 citizens to have representation in Congress for ten months is worth the expense of two additional elections. Corzine’s decision could be based on where he chooses to create a vacancy. If he appoints Robert Menendez to the U.S. Senate, there is a clear front runner for his 13th district House seat: outgoing Assembly Speaker Albio Sires. Corzine has already made a personal contribution to Sires’ federal campaign account, and the simplicity of the transition — both in a primary and general — could make issuing a writ of special election more palatable. In other districts, the line of succession is murkier. If he sends Rob Andrews to the Senate, South Jersey Democrats will need to decide whether the seat goes to State Senator Stephen Sweeney or to Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Louis Greenwald. The two could fight it out in a primary, but Camden Democrats tend to handle family fights like these indoors, without the unpleasanries of an election. (Camden Democrats haven’t had a rip roaring primary since 1979.) Still, Andrews has hinted that he’s either running for the Senate or nothing; that might mean Democrats will have to pick between Sweeney and Greenwald anyway. Republicans can’t compete in this district. There is also no clear successor to Frank Pallone. The Democratic farm system is much stronger in the Middlesex County portion of the district, but Monmouth County Democrats will be anxious to hold the seat. Monmouth has the larger share of the sixth district population, but there are more Democratic primary voters in Middlesex — which could make the line in Plainfield (Union County) a critical factor in choosing a candidate. Middlesex County has not had a Congressman since 1992, when a new map placing incumbents Pallone and Bernard Dwyer in the same district forced Dwyer’s retirement. Possible Middlesex candidates include: State Senators Barbara Buono and Robert Smith (who challenged Pallone in the 1992 primary and last year divested a federal campaign account worth more than $100,000), and Assemblyman John Wisniewski. In Monmouth, Democrats could run Maggie Moran, a Democratic strategist who served as State Director of Corzine’s Senate office; Belmar Mayor Kenneth Pringle or Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider — or they could import State Senator Ellen Karcher or Assemblyman Michael Panter, whose legislative district includes parts of the 6th C.D. Karcher grew up in Sayreville, where her father and grandfather served in the State Assembly. Assmeblyman Upendra Chivukula, who lives in the one Somerset County town in this district, wants the seat, but his endorsement of Menendez in the Senate race limits his chances. This a Democrat-leaning district (Pallone won 69% in 2004, John Kerry won 57%); Monmouth County Sheriff Joseph Oxley might be the Republican candidate. If Corzine decides the next U.S. Senator is Rush Holt, the new Governor might be more hesistant to call a Special Election — Holt is safe in the 12th district, but it is potentially more competitive (Kerry won 54% in 2004, his lowest percentage in any Democratic House district) if he is not the candidate. Democrats would have to pick between a huge field of potential candidates, including: Karcher and Panter from Monmouth; Trenton Mayor Douglas Palmer, Democratic State Chairwoman (and incoming Assembly Majority Leader) Bonnie Watson Coleman, and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora in Mercer; Lambertville Mayor David Del Vecchio (who ran a strong campaign for this seat in 1996), the Hunterdon County Democratic Chairman; and Assemblywoman Linda Greenstein from Middlesex. The race would not be a slam-dunk for Democrats, if the GOP could find the right candidate, and if the national political environment improves for them. Possible Republican candidates include two former Congressmen, Richard Zimmer and Michael Pappas. Zimmer gave up the seat in 1996 to run for U.S. Senate and was replaced by Pappas, who lost to Holt in 1998. Zimmer held Holt to a 500-vote margin in 2000. Zimmer practics law in Washington, and Pappas is currently the Regional Adminisrator for the Small Business Administration in New York. Other contenders include: State Senator Joseph Kyrillos, the ex-GOP State Chairman who ran against Pallone in 1992, or former State Senators Richard LaRossa and Jack Sinagra. Republicans could also run a candidate with the ability to self-fund their race, like millionaire Steve Distler of Princeton or Tammy Murphy of Rumson, whose husband was Corzine’s partner at Goldman Sachs. One interesting candidate: Douglas Forrester, whose high name I.D. would help in a Special Election, if he has another $5 million available for one more race. The Statute: 19:27-6. Congressional vacancy
In the case of a vacancy in the representation of this State in the United States Senate or House of Representatives, the writ may designate the next general election day for the election, but if a special day is designated, it shall specify the cause and purpose of such election, the name of the officer in whose office the vacancy has occurred, the day on which a special primary election shall be held, which shall be not less than 65 days nor more than 71 days following the date of such proclamation, and the day on which the special election shall be held, which shall be not less than 46 nor more than 52 days following the day of the special primary election. The writ shall also specify the day or days when the district boards shall meet for the purpose of making, revising or correcting the registers of voters to be used at such special election. If the vacancy happens in the representation of this State in the House of Representatives in any year, not later than the 65th day prior to the day for holding the next primary election for the general election, the Governor shall issue a writ of election to fill such vacancy, designating in said writ the next general election day as the day on which the election shall be held to fill such vacancy. The nomination of candidates to fill such vacancy shall be made in the same manner as the nomination of other candidates at the said primary election for the general election.