Into the Backrooms of Edison: the LD18 Fight for Diegnan’s Assembly Seat

From Left: Karabinchak, Shah, and Diehl

From Left: Karabinchak, Shah, and Diehl

The race for a soon-to-be vacant assembly seat is on in Middlesex County, where Edison Council people are maneuvering to position themselves to succeed Assemblyman Pat Diegnan (D-18).

Insiders say the veteran Diegnan is poised to grab the senate seat to be vacated by state Senator Peter Barnes (D-18), who’s off to claim a superior court judgeship.

Diegan’s craved the seat going back to 2013, when Barnes, son of the former county party chairman of the same name, replaced retiring state Senator Barbara Buono (D-18) on the strength of the Barnes name.

Now it’s Diegnan’s turn, say sources.

His move upward to the senate would leave his assembly seat vacant.

There may be other names in the mix, but right now Council President Robert Diehl, Vice President Sapana Shah and Councilman Robert Karabinchak all have indicated a desire to ensnare the assembly seat.

This will be the first stiff test for Edison Democratic Chairman Keith Hahn, who upset the balance of power with his win earlier this year over the handpicked successor of longtime local legend Doc Paterniti.

Diehl, who cut the deal with Hahn to make chairman, would appear to have an edge for Hahn’s affection in Edison, but obviously it’s a bigger district than just Edison.

Still, the retirement of Barnes – himself an Edison resident where his family is a local institution – suggests that the next addition to the LD18 slate will come from the district’s biggest town.

Those three at the very least are engaged in a massive tug-of-war.

For Karabinchak, it’s not his first flirtation with a legislative seat. In a classic example of the little towns in the 18th ganging up on Edison, Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin of East Brunswick (D-18) out-dueled him for the seat she now occupies, which formerly belonged to Barnes.

Sources say Karabinchak has the war paint on and does not intend to twice get iced for a seat in Trenton.

Then there’s power attorney Shah, first elected to the local governing body in 2013, who rattled the local power structure in her first months on the council then made nice with Paterniti and company only to see the old guru and his allies lose power to Hahn.

She’s the only woman on the council and one of two South Asian elected officials in Edison.

A source close to the action told PolitickerNJ that Hahn will meet with Mayor Tom Lankey on Monday to figure out the way forward. The source essentially dismissed Shah as a no-hoper in what amounts to a war between Diehl – who is said to have Hahn’s support; and Karabinchak, who will have Lankey behind him.

But there are 156 committee votes at stake (78 districts), 52 of which are Indian votes. Another Edison source said that the little coup that Diehl pulled with Hahn makes him a non-starter in the eyes of many.

There are those, too, who still feel humiliated by Karabinchak’s strikeout against Pinkin.

In short, it’s volatile.

The source said Lankey and Hahn agree on one thing, at least: Barnes’ replacement will indeed be Diegnan, who has district seniority.


Into the Backrooms of Edison: the LD18 Fight for Diegnan’s Assembly Seat