The Montclair municipal races have gotten especially heated over the last few weeks.
Mayoral candidate Joyce Michaelson, who's currently the town's deputy mayor, has two of the area's prominent Democrats behind her for this non-partisan election. Last week, Senate President Dick Codey, who doesn't represent Montclair in the legislature but lives in neighboring West Orange, came out in support of Michaelson. She also has the backing of Assemblyman Thomas Giblin and current Montclair Mayor Ed Remsen, who's stepping down after four years on the job.
"I think it does demonstrate the fact that I am known, that I know people and that I can represent Montclair well, and I think that's important," said Michaelson, who added that she hasn't put much stock in those endorsements. "The endorsement I'll seek is from each voter in Montclair."
Michaelson acknowledged that in a race with two other mayoral hopefuls and a slew of council candidates (some with very interesting backgrounds), anything can happen.
And even though Dick Codey is the most popular public figure in the state, Jerry Fried, who's running against Michaelson for mayor, criticized his endorsement as bringing partisanship into the race.
"I felt like it was an unhealthy insertion of that kind of party politics into a local non-partisan election," said Fried, who added that Michaelson's treasurer had said that the endorsement meant that she'd have a powerful legislator's ear in Trenton.
Giblin, who said he's endorsing Michaelson on a personal level, was sensitive of that criticism.
"I don't have any problem supporting her, but I don't want to make it look like we've got the arm of the Democratic Party backing her," he said.
Giblin has contributed financially to Michaelson's campaign, but hasn't made any public appearances with her and doesn't plan to.
Mayors are only the top of the ticket
In all, there are 22 candidates running in tomorrow's municipal election – most of whom are members of three slates headed by mayoral candidates. The mayor's office and every council seat are up for grabs in a town that hasn't reelected an incumbent to its top office since voters were first given the opportunity to do so in 1984.
Michaelson heads up the Partnership Montclair slate. She's joined by second ward Councilwoman Robin Schlager, who's giving up representing just that ward to run for an at-large seat; Roger Terry, who's running for another at-large seat; and Rich Murnick, Peter Zorich and David Commings for the first, second and fourth wards, respectively. The slate is not running a candidate for the third ward.
Fried, who took over the mayoral run for Gerald Tobin, heads the Unity Montclair ticket. Tobin, who's been on the council since 2000, is instead seeking reelection for his seat in the first ward. Running for the second, third and two at-large seats, respectively, are Cary Africk, Nick Lewis, Sandy Castor and Kathryn Weller. The slate did not put up a candidate for the fourth ward.
Fried figured that it would be better to have a non-incumbent at the top of the ticket, rather than have three incumbent councilors compete for the mayoral seat. Tobin, he said, had distinguished himself from the other council members, but was still vulnerable to the electorate's possible anti-incumbent feelings.
"With many people painted by the same brush as the council, it didn't seem that he would be the best candidate," he said.
Both Fried and Michaelson say that they're running clean campaigns, but blame opponent Ted Mattox, currently a councilman-at-large, for setting a negative tone. To the other Council members, Mattox became a sort of black sheep after he filed an ethically-charged lawsuit against the Township.
Michaelson said that Mattox posted negative campaign flyers all over town, creating litter.
"It's environmentally unsound if not illegal with allegations aimed personally at me, again with only partial factual information," she said.
Mattox, who could not be reached for comment, heads the "Thrive Montclair" slate as its mayoral candidate. He's joined by Sumana Rangachar and Starr Daniels for at-large seats; Roger Plawker for first ward; Mark Reynolds for second ward and Joanna D. Brick for third ward. Mattox won the endorsement of Noel Brogan, an antique dealer and political neophyte who almost ran for the office herself, and former fourth ward Councilwoman Dolores Riley, who was the first African-American woman elected to the council.
Incumbent fourth ward councilwoman Sandra Lang is seeking reelection, but is not affiliated with any slate. Also running for that seat as independents are David L. Taylor Jr. and Renee Baskerville. In the third ward, incumbent councilman Jerold Freier is also seeking reelection as an independent.
Michaelson is also ahead on the fundraising front, according to the latest available numbers. As of May 5th, her slate had raised $35,546 and had $9,245 cash-on-hand. Mattox's slate raise almost $31,000, but spent all of it, and as of the last filing deadline were $670 in debt. Meanwhile, Fried's slate filed a form with the Election Law Enforcement Commission stating that they intended to raise less than $9,700, but said that they've started to raise more small contributions and will probably report about $20,000 by the end of the campaign.