SHREWSBURY – Preparing for an attack on the Republican control of county offices and state offices representing the county, Monmouth County Democrats gathered at the Church House of the Presbyterian Church on Saturday, March 18, to select the candidates who will run for seats in the state Senate, Assembly and Board of Chosen Freeholders in the June 6 primary and Nov. 7 general election.
Assembly members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey, who two years ago became the first Assembly Democrats elected in the 11th District in 25 years, will once again be the candidates in that district. “We need to continue that tide,” Downey said. “This is our chance.”
Downey, an attorney, lives in Freehold. Her district has more registered Democrats than Republicans. It encompasses Long Branch, Red Bank and Asbury Park, all Democratic strongholds.
Houghtaling, a retired electrician residing in Neptune Township, said, “two years ago we didn’t know we would be on the radar as the No. 1 election in New Jersey.”
Houghtaling said Philip Murphy, the candidate the county Democrats are backing for governor, “will be a breath of fresh air from the time we had Gov. Christie.”
And, with Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s approval rating at a new low of 20 percent, as reported by the latest Fairleigh Dickinson University Public Mind Poll released on Tuesday, the Democrat’s candidates have a chance to link their GOP opponents with the unpopular governor.
In the 11th District senate race, Vincent Gopal of Long Branch, the former chairman of the county organization and the owner of a Hazlet-based marketing company, will be running against Republican Jennifer Beck of Red Bank, a state senator since 2008.
“I have already been knocking on doors,” Gopal said.
He criticized Beck’s record, including her vote against overriding Christie’s veto of an equal pay for women bill the Senate initially approved.
On Monday Gopal said he thought recent events in Washington would have an effect on the county elections. “I think a lot of the negative energy has only been helping the Democrats.”
As he visits neighborhoods in his district, Gopal said he has found “a lot of people are unhappy.”
Seniors especially are worried about health insurance and the possible negative effects of changes, he said.
In the 13th District, Sean Byrnes of Middletown, who served on the Middletown Township Committee from 2008-2011, will run for the Senate seat against Republican Declan O’Scanlon, who has been in the Assembly since 2008.
O’Scanlon was tapped by the Republicans to run for the seat now occupied by Joseph Kyrillos Jr., who has been a state senator since 1992 and has chosen to retire.
He was nominated for the position by Daniel O’Hern Jr., his law partner in Byrnes, O’Hern & Heugle, LLC, Red Bank, and the son of the former Red Bank mayor, Daniel O’Hern.
“There has never been a time in my life that the Democratic party was more important than now,” Byrnes said. “I can’t sit by anymore,” he said.
Byrnes said the proposed federal budget “puts bombs over babies.”
There was a contest among six candidates for the two positions on the ballot for Assembly positions in the 13th District.
After a vote by ballots was counted, Thomas Giaimo, Middletown, and Mariel DiDato, Hazlet, were named as candidates.
Giaimo, of Giaimo & Associates, Rumson, said although he has not served in an elected position, he has been a lawyer for 42 years, representing community associations and has interacted with all levels of governments during that time. He said he saw Middletown as the key to the election.
“Middletown is the battleground. If we can win Middletown, the rest of the district comes into play,” he said.
DiDato promised to oppose any increase in taxes. She stressed the need for protection of the environment. “What is the value of our property if the Jersey Shore is under water,” she said.
DiDato said she is a women’s rights activist specializing in sexual violence awareness.
Lake Como Mayor Brian Wilton and Margie Donlon, Ocean Township, are the Democrats’ candidates for two freeholder seats. They are opposing incumbent Republican Lillian Burry, on the board since 2006, and Holmdel Deputy Mayor Patrick Impreveduto.
Wilton, now serving as municipal prosecutor for Red Bank and Freehold Borough, is an advocate of shared services by small municipalities. Last fall, Lake Como disbanded its own police force and contracted for a fee-for-service with Belmar to provide police coverage.
Donlon said she decided to become involved in politics after the November election, which she called the “biggest wakeup call of her life.”
“I couldn’t sleep for days,” she said.
Donlon said she came to Monmouth County as a surfer while she was in training at a hospital in Newark and stayed to practice medicine.
She said she believed the Democrats are poised to go on a wave to success. “That wave, that swell has been rising,” she said, “and will take us to victory.”
The 12th District candidate for state Senate is David Lande, Millstone, a partner in Gill Chamas in Woodbridge, and a workers’ compensation attorney.
Assembly candidates in the district are Nirav Patel, Old Bridge, a community pharmacist, and Gene Davis, Jackson, who was a councilman in Linden before retiring.
In District 30, Amy Sarah Cores, Howell, will be the Senate candidate. She has a law practice in Howell. Eliot Colon, Brielle, the co-founder of Microcounseling, a software audit defense firm and Kevin Scott, Howell, manager of Chipotle Grill in Freehold, are the Assembly candidates.
This article was first published in the March 30-April 6, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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