Lopez rails against being denied a mayoral spot on Dem line

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Democrat Councilman Joseph Lopez, the mayoral candidate who was removed from the Essex County Democratic Committee party line last week for the June 7 primary election and replaced by incumbent Mayor Michael Venezia, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that he was attempting to find support to have his name reinstated on the party line. He said he was reaching out to the Latino Action Network for support but he had not yet heard back from them. The deadline for getting his name returned to the party line is today, Thursday, April 7.
This was confirmed by Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin, who, in an email, said the three days following the deadline for the submission of candidate petitions is called “the three day cure period.” During this time, Durkin said, a candidate is allowed to amend their petition by adding or changing their slogan. The party line, in this particular case, is the Essex County Democratic Committee, and the party line is a slogan. The deadline for candidate petitions was Monday, April 4.
In Bloomfield elections, to be placed on the party line of the Essex County Democratic Committee means that your are the candidate endorsed by the committee. Because voters in Bloomfield are overwhelmingly registered as Democrats, this endorsement gives an advantage to those candidates who are “on the party line.” When voters enter the voting booth on primary day, the names of each candidate of a party are on the same line and are identified by the party’s slogan.
The party line had originally been given to Lopez by Bloomfield Democratic chairman Peter Strumolo. This would have meant that Venezia would be running a campaign without party endorsement. That would have made his re-election bid a more uphill battle.
“We were told several times we were going to get the line,” Lopez said on Tuesday. “Leroy Jones even attended our kickoff.”
But on Thursday, March 31, Lopez was removed from the line by Democratic County Chairman Leroy Jones who then gave the mayoral spot to Venezia.
Both Lopez and Venezia have their own slates of three running mates who are seeking the three open council-at-large seats. According to Venezia, in a Friday, April 1, telephone interview, Jones provided him with a letter authorizing his candidacy under the party banner the day before. The letter was filed in the Bloomfield municipal clerk’s office on Monday, April 4, at 4 p.m., when all candidates’ petitions are due. It was this letter which allowed him and his slate of council candidates to use the official Essex County slogan for the Democratic Party.
The primary election will narrow the Democrats to a single mayoral candidate and three candidates for the open council seats. That slate will then face the Republican candidates, and any independent candidates who might enter the race, in the general election on Nov. 8.
Jones characterized the 11th-hour change in the party line as “bizarre.”
He said that on Tuesday, March 29, that Strumolo, Venezia, himself, and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., met in his Newark office because, according to Jones, the Bloomfield mayoral campaign was becoming too heated.
“I wanted to work out a compromise to keep the Bloomfield Democratic Party intact,” Jones said in a Friday, April 1, telephone interview.
Lopez said he took exception to county party authorities getting involved.
“For 16 years, the Bloomfield chairman has been picking the candidates to represent Bloomfield,” he said. The Bloomfield chairman for this primary season is Strumolo, who picked Lopez for mayor. “It’s not the county chairman and executive who should determine who represents Bloomfield.”
But in a March 10, letter to The Independent Press editor, Strumolo had accused Venezia of wasting millions of taxpayers’ dollars and having “created a culture in his administration that fosters corruption,” as reasons why the Democratic Party could not support him for mayor. A recent political flier, distributed within Bloomfield, quotes this letter, saying Venezia is supportive of indicted Bloomfield Councilman Elias Chalet, and also supportive of a nephew of the councilman; that nephew, said the flier, is a convicted felon. Both Venezia and Chalet are pictured on the flier, as is a pair of handcuffed hands holding a stack of money. Chalet has been indicted for bribery in official conduct. He is alleged to have taken $15,000 for his support on a council vote.
At the March 29 meeting in Newark, between Jones, Venezia, DiVincenzo and Strumolo, Jones said he proposed that the incumbents run for re-election under the Democratic banner: Venezia for mayor; and Lopez, Wartyna Davis and Carlos Pomares, for council.
“Pete didn’t like that arrangement,” Jones said, referring to Strumolo. “He wanted to think about it. But Mike (Venezia) had no problem with it. That’s how we left it.”
According to Jones, two days later, on Wednesday, Strumolo wanted a sit-down to discuss more options.
“I said to him that the proposal that we had was pretty much it,” Jones said. “But out of respect, I’d hear him out. He made some recommendations.”
After a discussion, they decided to run only Venezia for mayor plus three Strumolo candidates, and three Venezia candidates, for the three council seats. All seven candidates would be running on the party line. It was expected that Lopez would be one of the council candidates.
“The contest would come down to the three highest vote-getters,” Jones said, indicating the race for the three council seats. “I thought that was quite fair. We called Michael, he listened to the proposal and wanted to talk to his folks. They said OK.”
But Lopez did not want to run for council; he wanted to run for mayor.
“Mike was afraid to run against me, by agreeing to a deal that excluded me on the line as a mayoral candidate,” Lopez said. “I never said I was running for council.”
On Thursday morning, March 31, Jones thought he had an agreement. But Strumolo called to tell him that Lopez would run for mayor, off-the-line.
“I never got a chance to speak to Mr. Lopez,” Jones said.
Strumolo asked for more time.
“I thought it was getting to be too much,” Jones said.
Strumolo called again to inform Jones that Lopez would be his candidate and run off the line. Jones called Venezia to tell him Strumolo’s decision.
“Pete and company walked away from the line,” Jones said.
But Lopez said he did not know why he was not put on the line against Venezia.
“To say there shouldn’t be a primary is undemocratic,” he said. “Democracy is made by the people, not the party bosses. I wasn’t included in the discussions. I was disenfranchised and not given an equal opportunity to participate. They wanted Mike running uncontested with six council candidates.
Lopez said Bloomfield had a large Hispanic population and they were proud of him running for mayor.
“They’ve taken that away,” he said.
But in a Tuesday afternoon interview, Jones said Strumolo never came up with a proposal that put Lopez and Venezia on the same line against each other for mayor. Jones said if Lopez wanted to know why not, he had to ask his Bloomfield chairman.


One Response to "Lopez rails against being denied a mayoral spot on Dem line"

  1. Sergio   April 7, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    It’s outrageous!! to think that the Boss(DiVincenzo) will shove down the throughs of the People of Bloomfield who their Mayor should be,it will not be tolerated,could it be because Mr Lopez is Spanish? Mr DiVincenzo and Mr Jones should know that the Spanish Community will not forget this behavior against them,specially if one them wants to Run for Governor,this things only happens in Third World Country,we live in the United States of America.