Undeterred By Losses, Leinsdorf Challenges Byrnes In Democratic Senate Primary

May 21, 2017
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Joshua Leinsdorf is challenging Sean F. Byrnes, the county party’s selected candidate for the 13th Legislative District’s Senate seat in the June 6 Democratic primary. Photo by John Burton

By John Burton

Joshua Leinsdorf is giving a run for elected office another try.

The 71-year-old Atlantic Highlands resident and often independent candidate for various offices, said he’s taking on the county Democratic establishment in his somewhat quixotic venture by challenging Sean Byrnes, the party’s preferred candidate for the 13th Legislative District’s Senate seat.

“The Democratic Party is broken,” in the county, said Leinsdorf, explaining that is one of his motivations in seeking the party’s nomination at the June 6 primary for the Senate seat currently held by Republican Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr.

Byrnes, a Middletown resident, received the county party’s endorsement at its March convention and has the party line on the primary ballot, joining Philip D. Murphy, who won the support of the county Democrats for the governor’s race.

Leinsdorf’s rejection of the party establishment is due to his belief the organization has continually failed to show any backbone in what he alleged was, at best, lukewarm support for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election and for a pro-choice stance and other bedrock Democratic positions. And that lack of conviction has been punished by voters, who regularly fail to elect Democratic candidates to county offices, “unless on the back of a scandal,” that causes an electoral upset, he said. In his home community of Atlantic Highlands, he chided the local Democrats for opting to endorse the independent candidates and not to run Borough Council candidates for the 2016 election. “That made me really angry,” he said. “You just don’t run away from the issues.

“Take a stand on issues so people know what direction we should go,” he stressed.

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This race is to keep Republican Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon from winning the Senate seat, Leinsdorf maintained. O’Scanlon has been named by the GOP to run for Kyrillos’ 13th District seat, after the veteran Kyrillos announced he would retire from public office after nearly 30 years in Trenton. Leinsdorf, who is campaigning in part on traffic and pedestrian safety issues, took exception to O’Scanlon’s opposition to the state red light camera program that recorded traffic infractions and mailed motorists violation summons.

Leinsdorf has run for office before – pretty often. In 1978, he ran unsuccessfully as an independent for Monmouth County freeholder; the following year he tried for the state Assembly as an independent for his district, with the same results. According to his biography on his website, Leinsdorf said he campaigned for mayor, borough council, and in 2009 he tried as an independent for governor. In 2000, he was elected and served for nine years on the Princeton Regional Board of Education.

While most of his campaigns didn’t have the results he would have liked, Leinsdorf said there are lessons learned. The most significant one being: “You can shape and move the debate even in a losing campaign,” he said.

In addition to traffic and pedestrian safety concerns, Leinsdorf is advocating for a mass transit fix, overhauling it to encourage people to get out of cars; advocating for additional bike paths for cyclists safety; overhauling the redistricting process to make it more representational, rather than benefitting the incumbent; and opposition to the practice of appointing nominees to fill elected office vacancies, which Leinsdorf sees as undermining the democratic process. He believes it should be filled by immediate special elections, instead of waiting for the next election cycle.

Sean F. Byrnes is Monmouth County’s Democratic Party Senate candidate for the 13th Legislative District, running to fill the seat left empty by Republican Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr. Photo courtesy of S. Byrnes.

Leinsdorf said he has nothing against Byrnes, given he’s unaware of his opponent’s positions. Byrnes returned the sentiment, saying he’s never met Leinsdorf or even heard of him prior to the primary challenge. “Yeah, I got to say I was surprised,” when he heard of the challenge. Byrnes, 54, is a lawyer, who had served in the U.S. Coast Guard. He had been elected in 2008 to the Middletown Township Committee and served a three-year term. He ran unsuccessfully for county freeholder in 2009. He decided to run for the Senate because, “2016 really made me feel I didn’t like the direction the country was going in.” Not in the least because of the election of President Donald Trump, but also because of what he saw as Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s neglect of the state as he followed his own presidential ambitions. “As a result, we’ve got a crumbling infrastructure,” and other longstanding institutional problems, he maintained.

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Facing a primary challenge, “I think it makes you stronger,” Byrnes believed, “because I think it forces you to get your act together earlier.”

And the Democrats have, he said. “We’ve got our website up early; we got our Facebook, social media up early,” he said. “And we’ve started to raise some money.”

Presumably those are a means of running a competitive campaign for the November general election more than the June primary, where turnout is traditionally slim to down-right low.

The 13th Legislative District encompasses 16 Monmouth County municipalities: Aberdeen, Atlantic Highlands, Fair Haven, Hazlet Highlands, Holmdel, Keansburg, Keyport, Little Silver, Marlboro, Middletown, Monmouth Beach, Oceanport, Rumson, Sea Bright and Union Beach.

In New Jersey, only registered party members are permitted to vote in the party primaries.

This article was first published in the May 18-25 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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