10th Congressional District voters face prospect of doubled up elections

Voters in the 10th Congressional District will participate in special elections to fill the unexpired term of the late U.S. Rep. Donald Payne (D-10), elections likely to occur at the same time as the already routinely scheduled June primary and November general elections. 

State statute dictates that Gov. Chris Christie must call for a special election to fill the vacancy of a congressperson if the congressional seat vacates with more than six months remaining in the unexpired term. 

Precedent for special elections on the same ballots as the primary and general elections occurred as recently as 2006. 

Then-Gov. Jon Corzine appointed then-U.S. Rep. Bob Menendez to Corzine’s vacated senate seat, and, in the interest of cost-savings and convenience, subsequently declared a special election for Menendez’s vacated 13th District Congressional seat. 

In that election cycle, eventual winner Albio Sires appeared twice on each ballot. 

Voters had to select a candidate to fill Menendez’s unexpired term, and then they also had to select a candidate for the full, two-year congressional term. 

Sires at the time instructed his supporters to literally vote “twice” for Sires. 

After prevailing in the June primary and then the November general, Sires first assumed the oath of office to fill the remaining eight weeks of the unexpired term, then, in the new year, assumed the oath of office again for a full, two-year term.  

In an upcoming special election for Congressman Payne’s unexpired term, voters would consider a replacement to fill a seat encompassing the old 10th Congressional District, which included Elizabeth. In the election for the full, two-year term, voters would select someone to represent the new 10th, which encompasses more of Essex County. 

Sources close to the Essex County Democratic Committee say the following people are possible contenders to succeed Congressman Payne: Newark Council President Donald Payne, Jr., Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-34), West Ward Councilman Ronald C. Rice, former Assemblyman Craig Stanley, former Councilman Donald Bradley, and County Committeeman Rick Thigpen. 

The son of Congressman Payne, the council president is an oft-mentioned future Newark mayor with the obvious advantage of district-wide name ID. 

The potential for a move by the speaker to the 10th District Congressional seat has created the most backroom stir by virtue of the political volatility her departure from Trenton would create statewide. 

She has friends who would like to see her go to Congress. 

In her role as speaker, Oliver over the past two years built considerable goodwill within the Essex County organization. She grew up across the street from the congressman and considered him a mentor. Some of the speaker’s supporters describe her as the ideal candidate, again in a position to break history to become the state’s first African-American congresswoman. But political antagonists, or at the very least, opportunists, likewise would relish bidding goodbye to the sitting speaker, and with that in mind, Essex County establishment sources fear the crumbling of county power if Oliver vacates the Assembly seat. They see a speakership vacancy as an invitation to regional factionalism and a reenactment of the South Jersey-Hudson County deal-making that put on display weakened Essex County power.

Virtually a declared candidate as he fundraised in preparation of a 2012 Democratic Party Primary challenge to Mr. Payne, Rice still appears poised to run – either as a renegade if denied the line, or as a willing party player. The A line appears distinctly less likely for Rice than for Payne or Oliver. Never an organization person, Rice – son of the sitting state senator – arrived in politics as a grassroots brand and has worked since 2008 to develop a progressive fundraising base bigger than the 10th District.

If Oliver were to become the congresswoman, sources – depending on how the political and regional fault lines break – offer the following names as those statewide players on a short list to move up to speaker as her replacement: Assembly Speaker Lou Greenwald (D-6), Assemblyman Vincent Prieto (D-32), Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15), Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-29), and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-19). 10th Congressional District voters face prospect of doubled up elections