[Manville, NJ] - The Somerset County Democratic Committee met last night at their annual nominating convention to endorse candidates for NJ State Assembly, Somerset County Freeholder, and Somerset County Sheriff in the Primary to be held on June 4. The energy in the air was electric as members from all 21 municipalities and the various Democratic caucuses filled the Manville VFW hall up to the rafters to nominate one of the strongest tickets the Somerset Democrats have seen in years. For a moment, it would have been easy to mistake this year for a Presidential or Gubernatorial election year as the excitement and energy in the Hall was intoxicating.
The event began promptly at 6:45 PM with Congressman Tom Malinowski addressing his home county, praising the Democrats for their commanding victories up and down the ticket in 2018. Nominations of candidates and elected officials in Somerset’s six legislative districts followed. Assemblymen Joe Danielsen and Joseph Egan (D-17), Assemblywoman Linda Carter and Assemblyman Jim Kennedy (D-22), and Assemblymen Andrew Zwicker and Roy Freiman (LD-16) were all unanimously selected by the Convention to continue to represent their constituents in Trenton.
Candidates Lisa Bhimani and Darcy Draeger of LD-25 and Denise King of LD-23 were also unanimously selected to represent the Somerset Democrats on the ballot in the June primary.
The race for the 21st Legislative Assembly District had no shortage of intrigue or excitement. “The screening committee, which included county and local elected officials, state committee members, municipal chairs and chairs of our numerous caucuses, was unable to reach a consensus on whom to recommend to the convention,” stated Chairwoman Peg Schaffer. “Goutham Jois was the only candidate for whom a consensus was reached, but has since removed himself from the race. Because of this lack of agreement, and no clear choice by the delegates I have decided, unless there is strenuous objection by those eligible to vote on this nomination, to let the decision be made by the Democratic voters of the four towns in the 21st district at the polls on Election Day. We will have an open primary for LD-21.”
Candidates Stacey Gunderman, Lisa Mandelblatt, and Jill Lazare were each given the floor to speak to the Convention as to why they would be the strongest candidate to take on Minority Leader Jon Bramnick and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz in November.
The climax of the night arrived when it came time to consider candidates for the highly anticipated Somerset County Freeholder and Sheriff’s races. Melonie Marano, who served as the Mayor of Green Brook and came within a few points of unseating Freeholder Pat Walsh in 2007, was unanimously chosen to represent the Somerset Democrats as their candidate for County Freeholder. Former Franklin Township Police Lieutenant Darrin Russo, who was backed by the party and came within one percentage point of unseating Sheriff Frank Pronvenzano in 2016, was met with equal enthusiasm as he was chosen to represent the Democrats as their candidate for County Sheriff. Despite rumors of a challenge, no other nominations were made for the County offices
“The name of the game in 2019 is experience,” stated the Chairwoman. “When members of the screening committee met in February to interview candidates for Freeholder and Sheriff, we knew we had the strongest candidates in Melonie and Darrin. Running a campaign is a brutal endeavor and their experiences on the campaign trail, having come close to winning in 2007 and 2016, will better prepare them for the fight that lies ahead. But more importantly, Melonie’s experience as Mayor of Green Brook and in business and Darrin’s leadership as Police Lieutenant in Franklin Township make them uniquely qualified to fulfill the duties of their offices and to better serve Somerset residents.