Linden 4th Ward Councilman Derek Armstead on Friday obtained petitions to run for mayor but hasn’t yet declared his intentions officially in what at this point amounts to a piece of anti-establishment kabuki aimed at riling the local Democratic Party organization.
Armstead said if he runs he wouldn’t be a spoiler in a primary against establishment Democratic Council President Robert Bunk.
“I would beat Bunk if I ran against him,” boasted Armstead, who won re-election off the line in 2008. “How do you sell yourself as a vehicle of change when you have been council president for ten years?”
Armstead, a county employee in the IT department, has been on the council for 17 years.
This would be his first run for mayor.
If Bunk had talked to him about succeeding him as council president, “We would be having a totally different discussion right now,” admitted Armstead, the lone black on the governing body. “But the Democratic Party of Linden has not been very good at all to my community.”
Armstead said Bunk has already fixed his sights on 8th Ward Councilwoman Michelle Yamakaitas as his successor, the council’s only woman.
“Discussions with me would have had to happen a long time ago,” the councilman said. “In the next couple of months they couldn’t make any gestures that would reverse the trend. Right now, people are asking me to run because they really think I have a chance to win, and we’re giving it a lot of consideration.”
If Armstead gets in the race, he would be fighting Bunk in June for a general election shot in November at Mayor Richard Gerbounka, an independent.
“Gerbounka’s an independent, I’m a Democrat and Gov. Christie’s a Republican,” said Armstead. “It doesn’t matter what political party you belong to, people are losing their homes. My belief is people like Bob Bunk are obstructionist and have tried to sabotage Gerbounka in what amounts to a betrayal of the public.
“If Robert Bunk becomes the nominee, I am a Democrat, I’ve always been a Democrat… that’s the way I’ll leave it. Sometimes primaries get nasty, and I don’t think he’s a very strong candidate.”
As an off-the-line Democratic candidate in 2008, Armstead won with 63.06% of the vote.
He remembers Freeholder Rayland Van Blake campaigning against him that year. Now the party is dumping the Plainfield-based Van Blake, in part, Armstead believes, because Democrats want to run a freeholder candidate in Linden.
“They used him to try to get rid of me and now they’re saying it’s my fault that they’re getting rid of him,” Armstead said. “You can’t make this stuff up.”
For the record, Union County Democratic Chair Charlotte DeFilippo said she would turn to Linden only if Plainfield couldn’t unify behind a Van Blake replacement, and today Assemblyman Jerry Green, chairman of the local Democratic Party, said the city’s Democrats have come together around the candidacy of At-Large Councilwoman Linda Carter, a New Democrat.