Contemplating Assemblyman Jamel Holley, Trenton’s Loudest Anti-vaxxer


Back in 2015, when Assemblyman Jamel Holley arrived in Trenton as a freshman lawmaker, his potential looked limitless. He was young, dapper, hip, and full of fresh energy and ideas.

Mr Holley is still young and dapper. But his fresh ideas have all been replaced, mostly by alarming and disprovable stuff he reads on the Internet.

Jamel Holley is currently Trenton’s biggest peddler of anti-vaccine propaganda. To Mr Holley, vaccines represent an evil, furtive government conspiracy to allow pharmaceutical companies to get rich by harming people. And so, in the name of “medical freedom” Mr Holley has devoted his many considerable talents into becoming the leader of NJ’s anti-vaccine brigade.

His new anti-vax cohorts view Mr Holley as a hero and a martyr. But to his  former friends and supporters (and to his colleagues) Mr Holley became a headache whose histrionics come with very little upside.

Mr Holley might not get the “party line” next year in Union County when he’s up for re-election. Candidates, even incumbents, rarely win off-the-line in NJ so losing that preferred ballot spot will hamper Mr Holley’s effort for another hitch in the Assembly.

But don’t count him out completely!

Mr Holley’s campaign war chest is teeming thanks to a new donor base of anti-vax cohorts. So an off-the-line tilt (or even a run for higher office) isn’t off the table for Mr Holley, who remains a very gifted and energetic campaigner.

NJ’s 20th legislative district is comprised of Elizabeth (population ~129k), Union Township (pop 56k), Hillside (22.5k), and Roselle (21k) in Union County NJ.

I happen to feel very strongly that vaccines are the biggest pubic health advancement in human history. I’m ready to contemplate potential Assembly candidates who might replace Jamel Holley.

  • Tony Teixeira is an obvious choice because he comes from Elizabeth, the district’s largest town and home to former Senator Raymond Lesniak. Mr Teixeira, Lesniak’s longtime chief of staff, brings an uncommon resilience to the table and would be a champion in Trenton on issues like maternal mortality and substance abuse.
  • Sergio Granados is a Union County Commissioner who checks all the boxes: he’s from Elizabeth and someone who the gatekeepers can agree on, including Union Co. Democratic chair Nick Scutari, 20th district Senator Joe Cryan, and Elizabeth mayor Chris Bollwage. (And yes, it’s three straight white guys divvying up the spoils in one of NJ’s most diverse districts.)
  • Angela Garretson is another Union County Commissioner who’s smart, experienced, but still young enough to gather tenure while leaving her mark. Her downside: she’s from Hillside. If Garretson wants to make a play, her allies including municipal chair Anthony Salters need to make some noise already.
  • Christine Dansereau was a longtime Roselle councilwoman who became mayor by outfoxing Chairman Scutari to score a famous upset win. Last year, she was #16 on InsiderNJ’s OUT 100, a tribute to influential LGBTs in NJ politics. When Ms Dansereau resigned as Roselle’s mayor for health purposes in June, my first thought was maybe she’s sick of all the BS. If she’s at full fitness when next year’s assembly lines are awarded, Ms Dansereau deserves consideration. History is not on her side. There’s never been a lesbian in the NJ general assembly.
  • Patricia Perkins-Auguste, the long-serving at-large councilwoman representing Elizabeth, was recently fêted by the NJ Chamber of Commerce as an Outstanding Woman in Municipal Government.
  • Mohammad Jalloh, Denise Wilkerson, and Andrea Staton are also on the shortlist to possibly replace Jamel Holley on the ballot next year. The trio falls into the “long shot” category, but unlike Mr Holley they’ve never headlined a Klan-ish rally or peddled snake oil like hydro-chlorothiazide as a treatment for COVID. (FWIW In clinical trials, hydrochlorothiazide actually made coronavirus symptoms worse.)

The conversations about replacing Jamel Holley on next year’s ballot are already happening in Union County, mostly behind the scenes. The goal here is to nudge that conversation into the open where it belongs. I can think of nothing more important to stick up for than my belief that vaccines are safe and useful.

Anti-vaxxers are loud and strident.

Why aren’t we?

In the meantime, I call upon NJ Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin to reevaluate Mr Holley’s committee assignments, especially Holley’s vice-chairmanship of the health committee. The idea that someone like Assemblyman Jamel Holley has a healthcare committee soapbox feels like a dangerous mismatch.

Jay Lassiter has been HIV+ for over 28 years and big-Pharma has kept him fit the entire time. He cares about *your* health so his vaccinations are up-to-date. Just like his mother taught him. 

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