SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – Township officials and the municipal political parties are preparing a path forward following the death of Mayor Frank Gambatese last week.
Gambatese, 81, and the longest serving mayor in township history, passed away at a New Brunswick hospital last Saturday and hundreds paid their respects at funeral services Tuesday and Wednesday.
Since 1998, the mayor has been directly elected, creating a variety of possible scenarios for what may happen next.
Local council elections, and the election of the mayor, normally take place every-other year and the next scheduled election is 2018.
Officials said, however, that there will be an election for the vacant seat this November for Mayor Gambatese’s unexpired term of one year.
Gambatese won his fourth term in 2014 and would have served through the end of 2018.
Officials said that state law requires the position to be filled on a temporary basis and since Gambatese was a Democrat, that party must select three candidates to fill the seat within 15 days.
The Township Council must then select one of the candidates to fill the seat temporarily within 45 days.
While Deputy Mayor Chris Killmurray is currently handling mayoral duties, officials said that he would have to be formally appointed acting mayor by the council, which could create, in effect, two open seats in November’s election.
That would consist of Killmurray vacating his current council seat to be appointed mayor, and the race to fill Gambatese’s empty seat.
If, however, the council appoints someone else, aside from sitting council members, to be acting mayor, then only one seat would be up for election this year.
Township Republicans are also preparing for a local race in what otherwise would have been a quiet year with the governor and 16th state legislative district races being on the ballot.
GOP party officials said they were sent a copy of a letter to the Middlesex County Clerk from the Township Clerk, Barbara Nyitrai, explaining the process.
According to that letter, candidates from both parties have until the close of business on Wednesday, Sept. 13, to file candidate petitions for the one or two seats that will be on the ballot.
The winners of the election would have to run again in November 2018 for the regular four-year terms.
Prior to 1998, the township had a Township Committee form of government where all five committeemen were equal and they selected one to be the mayor each year.
Democrat Edmund Luciano was the last “selected” mayor in 1998.
The township then changed to a Council/Manager configuration that allowed the mayor to be directly elected.
Eleven candidates from both parties and an independent ran that year to fill the four council and mayor’s seat.
Democrat Debra Johnson was the first directly elected mayor in that year’s election and served from Jan. 1, 1999 to Dec. 31, 2002.
Gambatese was deputy mayor in that administration and became the Democratic candidate after Johnson declined to seek a second term.
He won that election and the next three subsequent races for the post.
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