Belleville Mayor Michael Melham backs Jack Ciattarelli for governor, according to a cocktail party invitation that includes North Arlington Republican Mayor Daniel Pronti.
Melham, a registered independent of a fiercely individuated town in a county Democratic stronghold, fought the establishment to land a seat in City Hall in a 2018 nonpartisan election.
He’s never been a Democrat, and prides himself on running and winning as an independent. But his town’s proximity to the Dem Party throne room and its presence in a heavily Democratic legislative district (the 29th) sends party members squirming whenever he zigzags politically – like now.
For weeks, Essex insiders have nursed rumors about the political intentions of the mayor.
Then the August invitation on behalf of Republican nominee for Governor Ciattarelli surfaced.
Last year, Melham butted heads with the Murphy Administration at the height of the lead pipe water crisis and over virtual voting. Melham wanted financial resources from the state to combat the lead crisis in his town and did not receive the assistance he asked for, according to a source.
In Belleville, the mayor there also said there were significant problems with the vote-by-mail election in his town.
“We expect right now that ten percent of the electorate in Belleville that actually cast ballots will either not be counted because they were not received or they will be rejected for signatures,” said Mayor Michael Melham.
Melham called the post office is “inept” in delivering ballots to residents in advance, or returning them to the Board of Elections by the 48-hour post-election day deadline.
“After second and third requests, ballots still did not get to voters.” Melham said there are photos of dozens of ballots just left in lobbies of building, never reaching the intended voters.
Melham’s cocktail party for Ciattarelli sparked grunts of discomfort among the Essex County Democratic Party establishment.
“Not a good look for LeRoy and Joe D., let’s face it,” groaned one source., referring to Essex County Democratic Committee (and Democratic State Party Chairman) LeRoy Jones, and Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, who both back Democratic incumbent Murphy.
The source described Democrats in North Newark and the environs expressing more aggressive plans to go into Belleville and organize more properly, once the ambition of the late Steve Adubato of Newark’s North Ward.
Belleville diehard Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-28) no longer serves Belleville – a consequence of 2011 redistricting, which extracted the twon from the 28th District and reconfigured into the 29th. But he still cares what happens there.
“I wish he made a different decision but I respect it,” Caputo said. “He does have to understand, there are consequences. I back Murphy. I will be campaigning in Belleville for Murphy and you can quote me on that. I campaigned for him four years ago, and I will again.”
InsiderNJ obtained a copy of the invitation here: