In Linden, Councilwoman Cosby Running Hard for Mayor

LINDEN – Rhashonna Cosby and Derek Armstead were never friends, but they started out as uneasy allies, occupying – more by necessity than design – the same anti-establishment foxhole in 2010.  

Cosby won her council seat that year, off the line. Armstead won in the Democratic Primary, but lost in the general. He held onto his council seat and came back in 2014 to beat Cosby – then backed by the establishment – by 140 votes in the Democratic Primary, assisted by what locals call The Puzio Effect (the presence in the race of a third candidate that year by that name). Armstead then stunned incumbent Mayor Richard Gerbounka in the general to assume the mayoralty.

Now it’s grudge match time.  

“He latches onto people he knows are good for a ticket,” said Cosby, who’s running against him again in what – again – looks like a three-person race, as Linden prepares for Councilwoman Gretchen Hickey to get into the contest. Hickey will have the establishment support Cosby had last time. 

Cosby wants to beat them both. 

She won’t be latched onto this time.

She’s running alone – and she means to turn that into a strength.

“Linden would be better with a woman in leadership,” she told InsiderNJ in a 5th Ward diner. “We think differently and we govern differently. It doesn’t take decades to get things accomplished. My accomplishments speak to my commitment to the city.”

Originally from Orange, Cosby moved to Linden 17 years ago. She first ran for a council seat in 2007, lost, and then came back in 2010.    

“The people of Linden deserve a mayor who wants to bring programs to the city,” said the councilwoman, who works for the county parks and rec. department, says she would take better advantage of grants than the current occupant of the mayor’s seat. She’s played a leading role in the development of things like ‘Hooked on Fishing not on Drugs’ and wants to do more. “Our mayor is not interested in these kinds of programs,” she said. “The city didn’t want to participate in all the expenses.

“I want to bring transparency to city government,” the councilwoman said. “Right now it’s not inclusive; not an opportunity for the public to give their ideas. The residents should feel that they’re being heard.” 

She prides herself on pragmatic citywide contributions, like insisting on a background check ordinance for employees and volunteers working with children.  

Now she also wants a business administrator for Linden.

“We gave him a shot,” Cosby said of the mayor. “There’s never been a woman mayor in Linden.  This is the year of the woman. This is our time. [Lieutenant Governor] Sheila Oliver inspired me. I was listening to Sheila Oliver, who said something like ‘you don’t have to wait until someone says it’s your turn do the best possible job.’ I was on the fence at first. Not after I heard her. I’m doing it for the people, and I’ve got the younger folks excited.”

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