PLAINFIELD, NJ — Supporters and opponents of Mayor Mapp's decision to endorse State Senator Nick Scutari for Chair of the Union County Democratic Committee over Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr clashed on Saturday morning as the three current candidates for chair — Scutari, Mahr and Hillside's Anthony Salters — addressed the Plainfield Democratic City Committee and residents.
Mapp started the meeting by stating some key demographics.
"There are 80 assembly seats in Trenton. Plainfield must have representation. I would think that all of you who are from Plainfield would agree with me that no way in hell would there be an assembly without representation from Plainfield."
He said that in conversations with Scutari, he was assured that the seat belongs to the Queen City.
Mapp then went on to detail a timeline that included a late December conversation with Senator Joe Cryan, who had asked Mapp if he would be interested in going to the assembly if Jerry Green were to resign.
"I said, 'of course'." According to Mapp, he also has a succession plan in mind.
Another plan that was revealed to Mapp along the way would have Linden Mayor Derek Armstead succeed Green, but that did not sit well with Mapp, and he reiterated that the seat belongs to Plainfield. Armstead is currently Mahr's running mate.
Mapp then opened the floor to questions from PDCC members.
Mary Burgwinkle, who in a Jan. 27 email had stated her disappointment with Mapp's endorsement, spoke up, saying the Union County Democratic Chair is a big deal. "I was dismayed that you would put your name on a list for Senator Scutari without asking us because what it comes down to is that the sixty-eight of us have a vote."
She added, "once you're a party chair, if you give an endorsement, everyone thinks everyone is lined up behind you. Believe me, the minute you said you were going to endorse Nick Scutari, he said, 'sixty-eight votes from Plainfield are now mine.'"
PDCC member Jeanette Criscione said she is a big supporter of Mayor Mapp who has done great things for the city, but pointed out, "Mayor Colleen Mahr has been the first Vice-Chair of the Union County Democratic party. She has been working in the capacity of the Chair, doing the job. I am, yet again, furious that a woman who has put in her time, who has done more, is yet again being passed over."
Councilman Cory Storch told Mapp that he shouldn't make a succession plan in a vacuum, and hopes Mapp stays on as Plainfield's mayor.
Mapp said he understands that some members felt that there should have been a discussion before making the endorsement. He then yielded the floor to the three Chair candidates.
Mahr spoke first, and highlighted instances of collaboration between Fanwood and Plainfield. "I am really proud that in the last year and a half that one of the most significant shared services that I have done as mayor has been with Mayor Mapp. And that the PMUA is handling all of our recycling.”
"We’re neighbors. Your residents come into Fanwood, my Fanwood residents come into Plainfield, and I see us as one community."
A PDCC member asked Mahr what she thinks Plainfield's important issues are, and how she can help address them.
“Redevelopment. Revitalization. The South Avenue corridor that connects us to each other. You have one of the the largest redevelopment projects in recent memory going on on South Avenue across from the Dairy Queen, right?"
"We benefit one another. So your redevelopment efforts will help Fanwood. Fanwood’s redevelopment efforts will help Plainfield. The Raritan Valley rail line, the one seat ride."
She added, "the most significant issue that makes Plainfield unique, how I know Plainfield? You’re the only one that has two train stations. Two!” She noted that if a one-seat ride becomes a reality, property values will go up on an average of almost thirty percent.
Mahr said she is a founding member of the mayors' Raritan Valley Rail Coalition. “With the Murphy administration and the shake up at New Jersey Transit, we will demand equity on that line to give us that one-seat ride for our quality of life, our property values, and for Plainfield, who really has the most to gain because of your two train stations."
Criscione asked Mahr what her position is on Plainfield having a seat in Trenton. “It shouldn’t even be open for discussion,” Mahr said. “Plainfield deserves, earns, and requires a seat to always be here among the people we send to Trenton.” She said Plainfield has always been a leader, and how Plainfield goes, so does the 22nd district.
Hillside's Anthony Salters said, "first, let me say this, that in my quest to be the Union County Democratic Chair, that's all I want to do. I don't want to have any other elected office because there's twenty-one towns that you have to focus on, and that needs to be the priority."
He added, "and what we have now is a monumental chance to shift the priorities of the Union County Democratic Committee and the county government. We have not received our fair share in equity of employment, of economic opportunity, and we need voices at the table that can speak to that."
Senator Scutari said, "I don't seek this position lightly, and I never sought it. Please understand that." He said Chairman Green asked him personally, and he couldn't say no.
Green said in a Jan. 24 press release, “throughout my career, Nick’s been more than a colleague and ally. He’s been a trusted friend and close partner. It was a tough decision to step back from leading the Party, but it’s a little easier knowing we have someone like Nick ready to step in. He’ll be a tremendous asset as our Party continues to grow and expand in the coming years.”
The Union County Democratic Committee will vote for a new Chair and Vice-Chair on Wednesday, Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. at the Grand Centurion in Clark.