Union County Angles: Things that are Never What They Seem to Be

It’s Day Two of the fight between Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr and state Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-22) to replace retired Union County Democratic Chairman Jerry Green.

Scutari allies did an endzone dance last night, claiming to have put Acting Chair Mahr back on her heels.

“It’s Plainfield,” a source said with confidence, noting that town where Cryan previously thought he had an edge with Mayor Adrian Mapp.

Chair of the Local Democratic Party (he title he wrestled away from Green) Mapp backs Scutari.

In part he backs him because Scutari controls LD22 and Mapp wants a future assembly seat. It’s interesting. Unlike Hudson, where the mayors push around the assembly people and hit the eject button whenever they like, Green for several years wielded more power locally than most assembly people, essentially over-lording former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, and cutting the deal with Map when she became politically untenable. So Mapp has that appreciation of local history. He wants Trenton. “But he also thinks Scutari does a great job,” the Scutari source insisted.

Now consider this.

It could be more complicated.

A stout Mapp ally, Plainfield Council President Rebecca Williams would have to be considered a short list bet for mayor if Mapp were to go transition at some point to the Assembly. Mapp backs Scutari, and powerful Trenton power broker Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) backs Scutari, so it’s really a no-brainer for a Democratic Party member to…

No, wait.

Williams had that tough run-in with Sweeney back in 2014. It was during the CD12 Democratic Primary: state Senator Linda Greenstein versus then-Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15). Revving up for a 2017 gubernatorial bid and convinced his connection to Green would materialize politically (as it turned out, Senator Ray Lesniak’s own gubernatorial ambitions would derail Sweeney in Union), Sweeney fired some mail pieces denouncing Williams and her New Democrats.

“Shameless behavior,” Sweeney fumed in the attack piece.

Williams responded in a Facebook post: “Filthy and slanderous.”

Short of getting the mayoralty if Mapp were to move to the Assembly, would Williams have any reason to turn the page on her collision with Sweeney? Are the wounds fresh enough and Scutari’s umbilical cord to Sweeney so obvious that Williams will back Mahr over Scutari even though Mapp stands with the senator?

Acknowledging Scutari’s early organizing edge, his critics nonetheless frowned on the tactics the senator employed along with Union County Democratic Executive Director Nick Fixmer.

“Despicable,” one source seethed, irritated by what appeared to be the projection for weeks by supposed Green allies that the assemblyman was fine and busy fulfilling his duties while Scutari – knowing Green would have to retire because of debilitating health – plotted with phone calls and county committee vote harvesting.

Here was another cold cock for Team Mahr.

Trying to consolidate countywide power, Scutari presented his chief of staff, Ed Oatman, for the positon of county manager; then supplanted Oatman with Tony Teixeira (Lesniak’s former COS), who happens to be the chairman of the Elizabeth – the biggest municipality in the county – Democratic Party.

“Tony’s going to be all over Elizabeth for Nick,” a Scutari ally cackled.

But Mahr wasn’t done.

Far from it.

Her allies liked her chances, in fact.

Scutari and Fixmer had their fun this week. Maybe even picked up a win, they conceded.

But what would happen when the women of the Democratic Party – in this environment, with anti-Trump marches clogging the streets in Morristown – found out that a band of white males ratified by Senate President Sweeney had big-footed the vice chair of the party?

“It’s boss politics at its worst,” said a source, confident of Mahr’s footing going forward.

Now, Scutari has a history of bucking the politically correct wing of his party.

He muscled his way into the senate seat back in 2003 despite a strong cry for a woman – then-Assemblywoman Linda Stender (D-22) to replace the Atlantic City sexual harassment-clotheslined late Senator Joe Suliga.

Suliga had allegedly so impaired the Union Democratic Party’s standing with women that nothing short of Stender would repair their image.

Scutari sidestepped that, playing an x’s and o’s game for county committee support while Stender’s allies bull-horned women’s issues – and got run over.

But Mahr is no Stender.

She came up in politics under the political tutelage of former Jersey City Mayor Gerry McCann, still widely regarded in Hudson as one of the most astute players of the political game.

Mahr works.

“No one is going to outwork Colleen,” a source insisted.

Then there are the CD7 angles.

Even though Fixmer likes former State Department stud Tom Malinowski, Scutari faces the stigma of being the guy who forces his way onto the dance floor amid the optics of other aggressive white guys in support. Would he be compelled to take the oxygen out of the argument by backing banker Linda Weber (or Lisa Mandleblatt) over Malinowski in a good faith showing of Indivisible/Me Too movement support.

“I could see it,” a source told InsiderNJ. “Look, no one really cares about the congressional seat. Ultimately, this is about control of the courthouse, not congress.”

One more tid.

The great Oklahoma writer Jim Thompson once said that there is only one plot in every story: things are never what they seem to be.

If Mapp’s endorsement of Scutari surprised even Union County sources who thought they were prepared for any eventuality, there are rumblings in Linden of the Scutari city being in less than lock down mode, with Mayor Derek Armstead apparently still smarting from the fact that the senator denied him the local chairmanship.

Scutari took the position for himself, and supposedly that rankled Armstead.

“Linden,” said a Linden source, “is not as unified as you think.”

All over the county, it was getting started…



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