EAST ORANGE, NJ — Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin confirmed that Carol Clark, a former Essex County freeholder and East Orange councilwoman, obtained nominating petitions for herself and Dwight Saunders, a former East Orange councilman and code enforcement director, Friday, Feb. 15, to run for two county positions in the Democratic Party primary on Tuesday, June 4.
“Yes, Carol Clark picked up county office petitions,” said Durkin on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
According to the county clerk, petitions are due April 1 for the office of register of deeds and mortgages for a five-year term, and for the office of freeholder at large for a one-year unexpired term. Also on the ballot are local municipal offices and two Assembly seats for Districts 26, 27, 28, 29, 34 and 40, he said.
Clark is seeking enough signatures from registered voters to allow her to run for the post of register of deeds and mortgages, currently occupied by Dana Rone, a former Newark councilwoman. Saunders intends a run for the freeholder at large seat left vacant by Lebby Jones, who died of cancer Wednesday, Jan. 9.
Saunders said he and Clark are experiencing some social and political backlash from fellow East Orange Democratic Committee members because of their decision to run against the party line in the primary.
“They must be running scared,” said Saunders on Monday, Feb. 25. “A disinformation campaign has started. They are trying to say that we are against Mayor Green, when that is not the case. We are against the Democratic process in East Orange. We are against ‘The Chairman’ and we are not going to kiss the ring.”
“The Chairman” to whom Saunders referred is Leroy Jones, chairman of both the East Orange and Essex County Democratic committees. He could not be reached for comment about Clark and Saunders by press time this week.
Saunders is trying to get enough petitions signed to allow him to run for Lebby Jones’ at large seat on the Essex County Freeholder Board currently occupied by Romaine Graham. Graham, who had been serving as president of the Irvington Board of Education, was appointed to fill the vacant seat at an Essex County Democratic Committee meeting in Irvington on Saturday, Feb. 9.
According to Graham and Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss, she was officially sworn into office Wednesday, Feb. 20.
“Freeholder Graham was sworn in down at the county. We came with over 50 people. Everybody represented, had their hoodies on that read: ‘I’m with Ro.’ It was just a great evening,” Vauss said Thursday, Feb. 21.
Previously, Durkin and Leroy Jones confirmed Graham’s appointment and described her path to the freeholder seat. Durkin said the Essex County Democratic Committee meeting on Saturday, Feb. 9, and the vote to appoint Graham, were all done by the rule book.
“State statute mandates that, in the event of a vacancy in the Office of Freeholder, the County Committee must be called to a meeting within 35 days of the vacancy occurring, to elect a vacancy replacement,” said Durkin on Tuesday, Feb. 12. “On Saturday, Feb. 9, Romaine Graham of Irvington was the only nomination made and was elected by unanimous voice vote. There will be a primary election where the one-year unexpired term for freeholder at large will appear on the ballot. The certified winner of the November general election for the one-year unexpired term for freeholder at large will be sworn in and will serve until Dec. 31, 2020. This seat will appear on the ballot with the other eight freeholder seats in 2020 for three-year terms in office.”
Leroy Jones agreed with Durkin.
“She’ll be on the ballot in June and again in November,” said Leroy Jones on Tuesday, Feb. 12. “What happens now is the freeholders set a date, she’ll be sworn in, then she’ll go through the primary. At the end of the November contest, the winner will be sworn in for the full term again.”
He said 2020 is shaping up to be a big election year and that the county freeholder races will be important.
“They’re all up in 2020,” he said, adding that Graham will, “be running in consecutive years, more than likely, if she wins, which is what we expect to be the case. We try to make it as seamless as possible. We’re guided by the statutes and the bylaws of the County Committee. It’s worked pretty good for me, since I’ve been there. That gives you the results that you get and we’ll see what we see.”
Graham agreed with Vauss, saying she’s ready to get started campaigning to run for her at large freeholder seat in the primary.
“It’s exciting,” said Graham on Thursday, Feb. 21. “Everybody’s on board. Everybody’s excited. I don’t have enough hoodies for everybody, but they’re all ‘With Ro,’ so that’s good.”