SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – The Township Council will likely vote to appoint Deputy Mayor Chris Killmurray to the mayor’s seat Tuesday night, according to the meeting agenda released Friday.
Killmurray, a Democratic council veteran who has served several terms on the governing body, will officially become mayor should a resolution on the meeting agenda get passed by the council.
He has been filling in the position since the death of Mayor Frank Gambatese on March 25.
Gambatese, 81, was the longest serving mayor in township history, winning the seat initially in 2002 and then winning his next three re-election bids.
Should the council approve the resolution elevating Killmurray on Tuesday, the Democrats would then need to appoint someone to fill his vacated council seat.
According to township officials, the Democrats have 15 days to select three candidates for the seat.
The candidates would then appear before the council and one would be appointed to the seat until the November election.
In November, both the mayor’s seat and the appointed council seat would be up for election for the remaining year of the term.
The winners of that election would then stand for a vote again in 2018 when the seats are normally scheduled to be elected, officials said.
Sources say there may be as many as a dozen or so Democrats interested in filling the open seat at this point.
Republican party officials are also preparing to select two candidates to run for the seats in the general election in November.
Normally, this would have been an off-year for municipal races under the Council/Manager form of government established in 1997.
After the township switched from a township committee form, elections were held for mayor and all four council seats in 1998.
Debra Johnson became the first directly elected mayor that year and served from 1999-2002.
After bowing out following her first term, Gambatese became the Democratic candidate that year and served as mayor ever since.
The terms after the first election were staggered to be held every-other year, with each seat being a four-year term.
As well as being the longest serving mayor, Gambatese was also the first sitting mayor in township history to die while in office, sending the township into uncharted political waters.
A similar situation took place at the state legislative level right after South Brunswick became part of the 16th legislative district in 2011.
Then Republican Assemblyman Peter Biondi died just days after winning the election with GOP running mates Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli and Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman.
A Republican convention for the district appointed Donna Simon to Biondi’s two-year seat.
Simon then ran in a special election against Democrat Marie Corfield in 2012 for the unexpired term.
She won against Corfield again in 2013, along with Ciattarelli.
In 2015, however, Simon lost to Kingston resident, and Democrat, Andrew Zwicker by less than 80 votes.
While experts feel Bateman’s senate seat is safe for the GOP, Simon and Zwicker are teeing up for what could be a close rematch in the district this year.
Further complicating matters, new candidates will fill out the assembly race as Ciattarelli gives up his seat to run for governor.
Both sides see the 16th district race as important in state politics, giving the Democrats a solid chance to win the second assembly seat in the split district.
Voters traditionally turn out less in a year when there are no local races on the ballot, so the addition of mayoral and council races this year could put extra pressure on Republicans in the state race.
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