WOODLAND PARK – Leaders of the Passaic County Democratic Committee tonight chose Nellie Pou for Senate and Shavonda Sumter and Benjie Wimberly to run for two seats in the 35th Legislative District, a Democratic Party stronghold that just refortified with redistricting, slicing out Republican Hawthorne along with the district’s longtime top of the totem Senate sachem.
“I’m thoroughly excited about this ticket,” said Passaic County Democratic Committee Chairman John Currie after his 35th District team was in place. “Shavonda Sumter is a former lobbyist and professional. The enthusiasm Benjie Wimberly brings to people is well known. Nellie Pou knows the system. She is a 14-year veteran of the Assembly and she has been a municipal leader. She knows what it takes. These candidates – they’re energetic and ready to go, all three of them.”
The campaign manager for Paterson Mayor Jeff Jones’s stunning 2010 municipal victory and director of behavioral health service at Mountainside Hospital, Sumter arrived for tonight’s screening at headquarters accompanied by Assemblywoman Elease Evans, (D-35), of Paterson, who’s retiring at the end of her current term.
The other vacancy occurred as the county’s state Senate Democratic Party nominee Pou abandoned pursuing her Assembly seat for a run at the 35th District state Senate seat. Veteran state Sen. John Girgenti, (D-35), of Hawthorne presently occupies that office – has since 1990 – but redistricting rerouted his hometown of Hawthorne away from Paterson and into the 38th District.
On Monday, a day after Pou told PolitickerNJ.com that she submitted her name to the county committee in pursuit of the Senate seat in the heavily Democratic district, Girgenti announced his retirement.
Recreation director for the Paterson School District, Wimberly, an at-large councilman, was the top vote-getter in last year’s Silk City municipal races.
Also screening for the Assembly seats tonight were Paterson Councilmen Ken Morris, Jr., Andre Sayegh and Rigo Rodriguez – who sat in the waiting room like patients in a doctor’s office – Paterson school teacher Wilkin Santana, and Haledon Mayor Domenick Stampone.
“It’s like Yalta,” cracked Sayegh, nodding to his city council colleagues, moments before a disappointed fellow contestant appeared.
“He disrespected me,” Santana said in reference to Currie, who conducted the screening process tonight in the tiny riverside headquarters on McBride Avenue.
“I was not given a fair interview,” the losing candidate said on his way out the door. “I did not think it was right that another person who was screening (Stampone) was also a member of the screening committee. That’s not ethical.”
Facing state charges for ballot fraud, Rodriguez appeared ready for a close quarters encounter with his old nemesis Currie, who fought with the former councilman last year over the outcome of the Paterson council election before the AG’s Office alleged that Rodriguez spear-headed the participation in elections of non-legal residents.
The veteran Morris elicited some double-takes from fellow contestants. Always whispered as a candidate for higher office, the director of governmental relations for St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center is now at the beginning of his term on the council and appeared to be settling in as a local entity only.
Then he screened tonight.
“Wisdom,” he said when Santana pointed to his silver beard. But in the end, Sumter maintained the edge as the long-groomed goddaughter of Currie, while Wimberly impressed insiders last year with his campaign trail work ethic and ability to raise money.
“Tonight, the torture will be over,” said Sumter, in reference to the long wait through the redistricting process to get to the point where Currie and his cadre of municipal leaders could render judgment on a slate.
And so it ended with the win for Sumter and Wimberly, with the positive ending party leadership figured was owed them after she helped engineer Jones’s underdog mayoral win last year on a ticket with Wimberly, whose citywide popularity as a coach also helped Jones win.
And for Pou, the veteran.