Two independent expenditures associated with realtors have jumped into the 20th District Assembly race in a big way down the stretch of the Democratic Primary season, according to the state Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC).
Boosting the candidacies of incumbent Assemblywoman Annette Quijano and Assemblyman Jamel Holley, two groups- the National Association of Realtors Fund and the NJ Coalition of Real Estate- spent $124,724 in the Union County district where three slates of two candidates apiece are competing.
The combined IE spending of $539,513 in the 20th District is second only to the $584,009 spent in the 7th Legislative District since the rise of independent expenditures, according to ELEC.
“Since independent special interest spending became more common in legislative elections in 2009, we have found that these groups tend to focus their money on key districts,’’ said Jeff Brindle, ELEC’s Executive Director.
According to ELEC, Quijano has individually out-raised her running mate: $232,356 to $118,865. She has $41,000 cash on hand, compared to $19,665 for Holley.
A source in the 20th District said the late flurry by the realtors for the incumbents indicates a closer race than expected, or – at least – the absence of an absolute comfort level by the allies of Holley and Quijano. The source added that a fiercely contested mayor’s race in his hometown of Roselle has kept Holley pinned down on the local money front more than he would have liked, forcing Quijano to shoulder more fundraising duties district-wide.
“We’re optimistic that we’re going to make some changes,” said Rafael Fajardo, leader of the Elizabeth Board of Education, slowed by illness but adamant that Tuesday will produce better results for his organization than 2011. “This is a tremendous opportunity for us to have a victory.
Fajardo slammed the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), which backs Holley and Quijano over his candidates – a teacher, in the case of Giuliano Farina, and Tony Monteiro, a School Board member. “Organizations like the NJEA take positions based on what is in the best interest for them, not the children,” Fajardo said.
Lined up behind Holley and Quijano, state Senator Ray Lesniak (D-20) hit back.
“That’s ironic that Fajardo’s attacking the NJEA, because hes been in bed with them for years,” the senator said. “Now they see the future and he’s angry about it.”
Lesniak said he disagrees that the presence of the realtors’ money shows the establishment in panic attack mode.
“I don’t feel that way,” he said. “You haven’t seen me much in this campaign. There’s a reason for that. I don’t see that Monteiro has anything going for him outside a small portion of Elizabeth. If you are going to challenge two figures who are respected in the community like Jamel Holley and Annette Quijano you have to give someone a reason to vote for you and I haven’t seen it.”
Barry Brendel, spokesman for the Monteiro/Farina Campaign, issued a statement in response to the realtors’ groups presence in the contest.
“The evidence couldn’t be anymore clear,” he said. “Holley and Quijano have been bought and piad for by special interests. They refuse to stand with people. They’ve sided with Kean University over the taxpayers of Union and they’ve repeatedly sided with special interests over the people of Elizabeth, Union, Hillside and Roselle.”
A third ticket in the LD20 contest comprised of Hillside attorney Jorge Batista and teacher Vivian Bell of Union Twp. has maintained an intense hyper-local focus on Hillside, where a contest rages for control of the local county committee, with former Union County Chair Charlotte DeFilippo fighting all comers – including once and future mayoral hopeful Batista – for control.
On a larger, statewide scale, while the 11-day pre-election reports have disclosed the first involvement of independent groups in this year’s legislative elections, it is unlikely that independent spending will approach the estimated $10.5 million spent in the 2013 election, Brindle said.
“Competition over legislative seats was more intense two years ago because the governor was running for reelection and state Senate seats also were up for grabs,’’ said Brindle. “Assembly candidates this year are running alone, and most incumbents are facing little or no primary competition.”
Fundraising for the primary elections has reached $12.5 million while spending has climbed to $7 million. Candidates combined have $5.5 million in cash reserves- $274,749, or 5.3 percent, more than the total reported 29 days before the election.
Assembly candidates this year have nearly $800,000, or 17 percent, more cash-on-hand than the $4.7 million they had amassed at this point in 2013.
Democrats, who currently hold a 48 to 32 margin, have held control of the lower house since 2001. They continue to have an easier time raising money.