When MercerMe reported that there is not much for people to vote on in the Valley for this primary election, we didn’t know that there is a fierce battle being waged among Democrats in Pennington over their County Committee seats.
The County Committee is the local political Democratic organization. Like the Democratic National Organization or the Republican National organization that makes decisions for the parties nationally, there are subsets including state political organizations, county political organizations, and municipal political organizations. Each local voting district (the district you go to when you go to your polling place) elects two representatives for their party who are the liaisons between the voters and the county organization. Each county has representatives to the state, and each state has national reps.
For New Jersey Democrats, the party is very strong. They have something known as “the line,” which means that the chair of each county Democratic Committee, in consultation with the municipal Democratic Committee chair, decides which Democratic candidates will be listed in the regular Democratic Party column on the ballot and which will not. Those who do not receive an endorsement may continue to run on their own, but they will be placed in a different column and will not have access to the resources of the party. The effect is to encourage people to vote for the party line candidates and to deter non-endorsed candidates from running at all. An explanation of why some Democrats oppose it is here.
In the case of Hopewell Borough, the Hopewell Borough Democratic Committee has endorsed only the incumbent whose seat is up this year, David Mackie. There are two other candidates running: Chris Malikschmitt and Krista Weaver. The Borough political committee indicated to the County Chair that they thought the other two should also be shown as regular Democratic Party candidates, so all three will appear on the ballot in the Democrats column A, vote for two.
However, a massive battle has erupted in Pennington Borough. The current Pennington Borough Democratic organization is chaired by Nadine Stern, who also joined the Pennington Council in January. She and the rest of the municipal Democratic organization have been challenged by long-time Councilmember Charles (Chico) Marciante and several others (see below for the list).
Marciante’s and Stern’s statements follow:
Charles Marciante’s statement (MercerMe asked him for a summary)
“Alan Hershey, chairman of Pennington Open Space Committee, came before Borough Council to propose purchasing three pieces of property in Hopewell Township to build bicycle trails from the high school to Woolsey Park. He also suggested Pennington Open Space take another look at Blackwell Road property, which has no value at all to Pennington Borough and ended in a tie vote on Council years earlier. The people running against the Democratic Committee – we all believe in protecting our greenbelt, providing recreational opportunities, harvesting of deer, and protecting our water.
“Why are we running against the current committee? Mainly because of the way they filled the last vacancy on council. In violation of State Law where three candidates must be presented to council to interview and ultimately choose the person of their choice. That wasn’t done.
“It became apparent that the Democratic Committee was stacked with open space people who believed Pennington’s Open Space money should be spent Valley wide. Thus, we put together a slate of residents that don’t agree with Valley-wide spending of our Open Space Tax money and will attempt to bring the committee back on center to represent all residents.
“When it became known that we were challenging the present committee, Alan Hershey wrote and distributed an email claiming our slate was in opposition to preserving land around Pennington and protecting the environment. He also claimed the State gives back 90% of open space transactions. This email is nothing but a desperate attempt to keep the current committee by using untrue statements trying to mislead voters.
“In fact, when I questioned Mr. Hershey about greenbelt property at Curlis Lake and why we haven’t purchased it, he dismissed it until he was told by another Council member it’s protecting our watershed. Or how about the property across from Cream King, long sought after by past Mayor Persichilli who felt this was a perfect property to protect our greenbelt plus a possible site for a new water well if needed? While the Open Space committee was figuring ways to get the bicycle trail, Rich’s Auto Salvage bought the land. Mr. Hersey’s response was, ‘yeah too bad about that one’.
“Since everyone running is a Democrat, you’d think we’d be working towards the same goal, the good of Pennington. I was really surprised when Democratic Chair Nadine Stern, one of the leaders in the County for no party line (balanced ballot) went against her own beliefs and listed her candidates in column A and ours in column B. Guess it only matters if it’s to her advantage.
“Finally, I personally do not like the dirty tactics being used by some members of the current committee. Party doesn’t matter here, Pennington and its residents are what are important. Keep improving our parks, recreation and protecting our water are the most important jobs we have and the people running with me will do that.
“PS: On top of all the dirty tricks, they are handing out campaign literature with no identifier of who’s paying for it. State violation of election law, we’ll see where that goes after I report it. Can we really trust them?”
Stern’s statement (from questions posed by MercerMe)
“Thanks for reaching out and asking about this primary race. I would like to first point out that even up to today, none of the challengers have reached out or contacted me or any of the other current Pennington Democratic Committee members to discuss any concerns they might have with any of our actions or approach. My responses below therefore reflect things that Chico Marciante has said publicly in Council meetings, and in a conversation he and I had in person after I asked him to meet in April. I would encourage you to listen to the audio, or even better, watch the video of the Council meeting of May 2. At around 2 hours, 27 minutes Chico speaks about this primary race for the Democratic committee and why he has set up a slate of challengers. My responses below reflect the opinions of the entire current Pennington Democratic Committee.”
We wanted to ask you, as Chair of the Pennington Dems, why there is a contested race this year
“As leader of the challenger slate, Mr. Marciante has stated that he organized the challenge because: 1) he was upset that the Borough Council did not receive three candidates to consider when it filled the last vacancy on the Council and 2) he is opposed to the Pennington Borough Open Space Committee’s recommendations that would acquire properties outside the borough, as well as the committee’s interest in preserving the environment within the Borough.
“Concerning item #1, the Pennington Democratic Committee did, in fact, present three names to the Council for consideration. It should be noted that the Democratic Committee actively solicited from the Borough Council names for consideration; however, Mr. Marciante, now a challenger for a committee seat, did not offer a single name; nor did he address his concerns to the committee.”
You have gone on record in the past asking the Chair of the Mercer County Democrats to eradicate the line that separates the party-endorsed Democrats from other Democrats who want to run for a seat in a primary. What made you change your mind to ask the Chair to put the incumbents, including yourself, on the line and the challengers in column B?
“The “no line” ballot has not been adopted by Mercer County. This is not a change of position because the ballot currently in use in Mercer County is still the one where candidates are listed in separate columns. I authorized the separate ballot line to make it crystal clear to the voters of Pennington that there is a slate of challengers. It is clear that there is a stark difference between the positions and values of the Regular Democratic Party candidates and the challenger slate. This difference paints a very concerning picture of Pennington’s future. The Regular Democratic Party stands for civility and fidelity to the intentions of Pennington’s voters with respect to open space and environmental integrity.”
How do you feel about Pennington Open Space funds being used to purchase land in Hopewell Township?
“When the taxpayers of Pennington approved by referendum the creation of the Borough’s open space tax, it also authorized the purchase of properties in and outside the Borough for open space and for maintaining existing Borough parks. Such properties serve the recreational pleasure of Pennington and valley residents, as well as enhancing and preserving our environment. In addition, the Pennington Planning Board approved an Open Space and Recreation Plan as an element of the Borough Master Plan. That Plan identifies a “Greenbelt” around Pennington approximately one and one-half miles from the Main Street and Delaware Avenue intersection. The Democratic Committee fully supports improvements to the Borough’s parks, as well as open space purchases when feasible within the Borough. The Pennington Democratic Committee does not support open space purchases outside of the prescribed Greenbelt limits. It should be noted that the leader of the challenging slate of candidates has previously stated that he is not supportive of open space purchases outside the Borough including within the limits of the Greenbelt. It should also be clear, however, that we do not directly know the position of the other candidates, because, as I said, they have not contacted any of the current Committee.”
Current Democratic Committee in Pennington:
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