Urban battle in Elizabeth serves as big city flashpoint among local Dem Primaries

While Tea Party challengers fray the nerves of establishment Republicans in Congressional Primaries this coming Tuesday, local Democratic Party primaries feature classic cobra-wild mongoose match ups as renegade grassroots candidates provoke the party brass.  

In at least three cases – Bloomfield, Haledon, Roselle – mongoose mayors on the outside of local power try to take back control of their governing bodies – or at least withstand organization efforts to weaken or beat them.



In Bloomfield, veteran Mayor Ray McCarthy seeks re-election against Councilwoman Patricia Spychala in a Democratic Primary.

McCarthy is running on the “A” line under U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson), Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo and Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin. The Spychala campaign features the handiwork of local campaign maven Gary Iacabacci, who had two significant wins (Hoboken, Morristown) last year.

Spychala says McCarthy’s veto power over the council turned Bloomfield into a small town dictatorship. McCarthy told PolitickerNJ.com that his challenger and the majority council would “sell out the town.”

McCarthy is down to $2,048 after collecting $28,976 for this campaign, according to the Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC). Spychala ran with $20,515 and is now down to $3,827, according to the week’s ELEC report.



Elizabeth features a clash of two power brokers, neither of whom is on the ballot.

State Sen. Ray Lesniak (D-Elizabeth) claims alliances with five of the six ward council people. School Board member Rafael Fajardo already has a bond with Councilman Carlos Cedeno. Now he wants the other five seats.

The incumbent council people aligned with Lesniak bash Fajardo’s school district as a patronage pit headed by Superintendent Pablo Munoz, who makaes $257,000 per year.

Fajardo’s team continues to distribute a DVD that depicts Lesniak as a pay to play octopus with each arm clutching a council person.

It’s been a rough campaign, with battle lines that spill over into other Union County towns, like Roselle and Rahway (where there is a mayor’s race). Fajardo reported bailing an ally out of the brig the other morning after an eruption on the street between Fajado’s people and the allies of Ward 1 Councilman Manny Grova.

The more torturous exchanges have arguably been in court, where Fajardo this week weathered the organization’s efforts to close down his allies’ campaigns, citing unfiled ELEC reports.

Union County Democratic Organization Chair Charlotte DeFilippo dismisses the uprising emanating from Elizabeth as little more than the bitter convulsions of disgarded Democratic Party operative Jimmy Devine.

Fajardo told PolitickerNJ.com, “Devine came to us after they got rid of him and apologized for going against us. There were people who wouldn’t look at him. I forgave him. Everyone should have a chance to be forgiven – even Ray Lesniak.”

For their part, Lesniak’s and DeFilippo’s grudging respect for Fajardo as an adversary faded when they saw him join forces with Devine. 

Union County Democrats (Lesniak, Mayor Chris Bollwage and DeFilippo): Ward 1: Councilman Manny Grova; Ward 2: Councilman Nelson Gonzalez; Ward 3: Councilman Joseph Keenan; Ward 4: Lena Alvarez; Ward 5: Councilman William Gallman, Jr.; Ward 6: Councilman Frank Mazza.

Democrats for Change (Fajardo and Devine): Ward 1 candidate: Diego Padilla; Ward 2 candidate: Carlos Lucio; Ward 3: Armando DaSilva; Ward 4: Councilman Carlos Cedeno; Ward 5: Lester Dominguez; Ward 6: Marlene Abitanto.


New Brunswick

In New Brunswick, a vigrous grassroots challenge by attorney Patricia Bombelyn has veteran Mayor Jim Cahill in old school campaign mode. 

Bombelyn charges Cahill with putting the interests of corporate developers before the city’s poor and working class neighborhoods. Although the challenger is aligned with a coalition of students and residents who backed Barack Obama for president in 2008, Cahill in battle mode has drawn a bead on the group’s public disaffection with Gov. Jon Corzine, the Democratic governor who last year lost re-election.

The Latino Leadership Alliance run by Bombeyln’s husband, Martin Perez, suffered a fracture during the gubernatorial race, as Perez stuggled with a divided group and finally recommended issuing no endorsement, which effronted a majority of those members of the alliance who backed Corzine over Republican Chris Christie.

There are other reported fractures within the alliance, as some students wanted a Rutgers University student candidate for mayor, and not Perez’s wife. But whatever arguments permeated the early going do not appear to be preventing Bombelyn from running a well organized campaign agains the odds.

Cahill’s funds, according to ELEC: $304,145 raised, $87,537 left.

Bombeyn and her team: $36,566 raised; $12,928 in the bank, according to their last ELEC filing at the end of May.



Haledon features the most significant race in Passaic County, but the entreaty, “Just vote for Domenick” will require clarification.  

Incumbent Mayor Domenick Stampone is a Democrat at odds with the local party organization and trying to withstand the chairman’s attempt to force him out of there. Councilman Domenick Fusco is the local organization-backed challenger.

Stampone: 12,946 raised, just under $96 in the bank, according to this week’s ELEC filing.

Fusco: ELEC report unavailable.


Highland Park

Another race of note is in Highland Park, just across the river from New Brunswick, where Domenick J. Cereminaro runs as a revived arm of the local old guard against Meryl Frank protege Mayor Stephen Nolan. 

As Middlesex County Democratic Committee Chairman Joe Spicuzzo struggles with sexual harassment lawsuits, party pooh-bahs in recent weeks have mulled putting up opposition to the veteran chairman.

Sources say Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac tested the notion of swapping out Spicuzzo, but state Sen. Bob Smith (D-Piscataway) and State Party Chairman John Wisniewski want Spicuzzo planted.

Two against one means Spicuzzo stays, but Nolan was one name in the Middlesex chairman’s mix.



This is another turf war with longer term implications. Roughed up last year by an Attorney General’s Office investigation into absentee ballot acquisition that ultimately resulted in a wrist slap, Council President Jamel Holley repackaged himself as a battle scarred survivor and now faces the Rev. James Moore.  

Moore is an ally of Mayor Garrett Smith’s, an independent Democrat eyeballing re-election next year.

If Holley can beat Moore, he’ll have momentum to challenge Smith in 2011.

Smith and Moore brand thier antagonist on the streets as a tool of the Union County Democratic Organization and protege of disgraced former Assemblyman Neil Cohen (D-Roselle).

Holley’s mostly stayed positive, and enjoys a money advantage that enables him to plaster the small town with pro-Holley billboards.

Smith maintains that the establishment’s failure to hold onto the Hillside mayor’s seat last year indicates weakness. Urban battle in Elizabeth serves as big city flashpoint among local Dem Primaries