What You Need to Know Ahead of Tuesday’s Special Election Senate Primary

With the primary vote for the Republican and Democratic nominees looking to fill the seat of former US Senator Frank Lautenberg set for Tuesday, August 13, here’s what you need to know.

In the aftermath of Lautenberg’s death — much beloved by environmentalists and liberals — the state’s actions were almost immediately criticized. Indeed, the $12 million special election is seen by many as a waste of tax payer money due to the fact that there’s already a statewide election set for this year in November, so why bother with a special election a few weeks earlier? But with Gov. Chris Christie himself facing voters this year – it was his decision to hold the election on a separate date – critics say he didn’t want the Democratic voters Newark Mayor Cory Booker might well bring out on election day to diminish his big lead in the polls against Democratic nominee Barbara Buono, should Booker win the primary on Tuesday.

Democrats have a choice between Booker, Congressmen Frank Pallone and Rush Holt, and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.

Booker, the front-runner in the polls, took some heat for not running for governor against Christie, instead opting for what is seen as the safer open seat (Lautenberg had intended to retire at the end of his term in 2014). Newark’s mayor has reached a degree of iconography with his heroic efforts to rescue those in danger, but questions remain over his city’s uneven recovery.

Pallone, taking second in the informal polls, was recently elected to his 13th term as a Congressman. Active in the Environment and Economy Subcommittee and the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, Pallone’s record speaks to his work on the environment and food safety issues. His district includes some notably Republican areas, including parts of Monmouth County, perhaps giving him the broadest base.

Holt, known for the bumper stickers that say, “My Congressman is a Rocket Scientist,” (because he is, in fact, a rocket scientist), is among the more liberal options available. Indeed, his site calls immediately for the repeal of the Patriot Act, among other progressive values.

The first African-American speaker of the Assembly, Oliver, who was raised in Newark, has been in the legislature for nine years. She’s also been critical of the governor, as opposed to at least one of her Democratic rivals.

Republicans will choose between Alieta Eck and Steven Lonegan to fill a seat that has long gone to Democrats.

Eck, a doctor with conservative values and a uniquely religious healthcare approach, and Lonegan, described as a Republican “firebrand,” represent the state’s more conservative ideals (as opposed to one of the local Republican clubs, which describes themselves as moderates).

What does this mean for Jersey City, specifically? Senators, the ostensibly more level-headed and longer-termed US reps (as envisioned by the Founding Fathers), typically address national issues rather than local. That being said, with the practice of ear-marking money for local projects and steering government contracts and defense spending to local businesses, there is room for Jersey City to be affected. Further, some national issues that affect residents (the environment, taxes, health care, etc) will also be somewhat influenced by the election, though the Democratic majority isn’t in jeopardy this time around. Indeed, the work goes beyond simple partisan politics – just two weeks before his death, Lautenberg helped revise the Toxic Substances Control Act, a bi-partisan effort that is meaningful for the chemical industry locally.

More generally, the winner of this election will replace Christie’s temporary appointment of Republican Jeffrey Chiesa, and is more likely to win in a year’s time when the Lautenberg term is completed and a new one begins.

For your polling place needs, go here. Missed the July 23 voter registration cutoff for the primary? There’s still time for November’s general election.

Polls will be open from 6 am to 8 pm, and only voters who have declared to a party can vote in the primary. Independent candidates have until Tuesday to file.

Matt Hunger

is a former staff writer for the Jersey City Independent.