LD16 Flashpoint: It All Comes Down to…Readington

When Assemblywoman Donna Simon (R-16) lost her 2015 reelection bid by 70 votes, area Republicans seethed over a missed opportunity to be more vocal against the early stages of a the gas tax debate, with the likes of state Senator Mike Doherty (R-23) angered by what he said was the lack of a coherent anti-tax Republican message.

“We lost four seats,” said Doherty, who in the case of LD16 notes, with regret, the flatter than usual 2015 turnout in Readington, pop. 16,000 – a reliable Republican breadbasket.

If those voters had only had more of a motivator, Simon could have fended off her conqueror, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (R-16).

Now the come-backing Simon wants to correct the errors of the past, alert this time a special election for mayor in Democratic Party-dominant South Brunswick that will probably drive unwarranted turnout for the GOP.

Part of her strategy includes the careful recruitment of a slate to run for local office, a ticket comprised of Republicans John Albanese and Jonathan Heller, who hope to supply some local firepower in what will be one of the most watched general election  contests in the state come fall.

Trenton Republican may recognize the name John Albanese. He served as an aide to former Senator Bill Schluter.

“I think we are good candidates,” Albanese – vice chair of the Readington Planning Board – told InsiderNJ.  “Donna was the one who encouraged me to run the day after last year’s primary. She said ‘you’re next.’ This was not something on my radar.”

But now he’s all in.

“I know Donna very well,” said the candidate. “She’s part of my campaign team, and we are running on the line with the endorsement of the local Republican Committee, with Jack Ciattarelli [for Governor], Senator Bateman and Mark Caliguire.”

Turnout in Readington hovered around 21% in 2015. That heartbreaking 70-vote loss among 16,000 votes cast haunts the former assemblywoman.

Heller and Albanese have to get through a primary. If they do that, they intend not to take the general for granted, and have a host of issues to address at the local level, including property taxes, resistance to state mandates, and the local airport battle.

For his part, Zwicker voted against the eventual gas tax increase, again irritating Doherty.

“My understanding is that all four of those Democrats who got elected last time [including Zwicker], opposed the gas tax, which tells you that Democrats are better politicians than we are,” the senator noted pointedly.

But Simon has her own opposition – in addition to ground game mechanics that include her team in critical Readington – in hopes of turning the tide for the GOP.


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