New Jersey’s attorney general urged an appeals court to reject a challenge to Republican Governor Chris Christie’s decision to hold a special election Oct. 16 to replace U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, who died last week.
The lawsuit, filed June 7 by Somerset County Democratic Chairwoman Peg Schaffer, should be rejected, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman argued in court papers filed today. Schaffer’s emergency application for an injunction claimed voting within 20 days of the Nov. 5 general election will reduce turnout and cost an estimated $12 million.
“The legislature has bestowed upon the governor the discretionary authority to set the date for a special election,” according to Hoffman’s filing. The governor’s writ of election “was properly exercised. It is therefore not subject to judicial reversal.”
The appellate division is weighing an emergency challenge filed by Schaffer as a four-way battle for the Democratic nomination begins. U.S. Representative Frank Pallone and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver joined Newark Mayor Cory Booker and U.S. Representative Rush Holt in filing papers to enter the Aug. 13 primary.
“This is going to be a campaign for the heart of the Democratic Party,” Pallone, 61, said yesterday at the state Elections Division offices. “Obviously, I’m in and excited.”
The contest took shape after Lautenberg, an 89-year-old Democrat, died June 3, and Christie called for a quick campaign to select a successor to fill out the remainder of his fifth term. The deadline to get on the primary ballot by handing in at least 1,000 voter signatures was yesterday.
Booker, 44, already had been seeking the seat, as Lautenberg didn’t plan to run again next year. The others clarified their intentions more recently.
In the Republican primary, former Bogota Mayor Steven Lonegan is facing Alieta Eck, a physician from Somerset.
Christie has “broad discretionary authority” to call a special election on a date of his choosing under both state and federal law, Hoffman argued today. The October date also complies with time frames set by state law, as the Aug. 13 primary would be no less than 70 days after Christie’s decision, and the October general election would be no less than 64 days after the primary, according to the filing.
‘No Legal Moment’
The challengers’ “personal preference for a different election date is of no legal moment or consequence,” according to the filing. “That power to call a special election rests solely with the governor.”
In comments yesterday in Trenton, Christie said he properly weighed two state statutes governing special elections.
“If people want to sue, they can sue. Let them go to court,” Christie said. “That’s what the courts are there for, and we’ll rise and fall on that basis. I have no second thoughts about it.”
Ten New Jersey organizations, including New Jersey Citizen Action and the New Jersey Black Issues Convention, filed court papers backing the emergency challenge to Christie’s decision.
Christie appointed his attorney general, Jeffrey Chiesa, to fill the senate seat until the Oct. 16 special election. Hoffman was appointed as his replacement.
A survey that offered a first glimpse of the Democratic contest showed 53 percent supported Booker, followed by 10 percent for Holt and 9 percent for Pallone, according to Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.
Oliver, 60, of East Orange, wasn’t listed in the poll released yesterday. It showed 23 percent of respondents were undecided with two months to go before the party primary.
The four-month Senate campaign has the potential to drain financial resources for the Democrats and may take “big-name endorsements” from state Senator Barbara Buono, 59, the party’s challenger to Christie’s re-election bid, according to Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, New Jersey. The Republican leads her by 30 percentage points, the Quinnipiac poll showed.
Once informed of the cost of holding a statewide balloting, at about $12 million, more than three-quarters of respondents said it was a bad idea not to hold the special vote on the same day as the general election, the poll from the New Brunswick-based state school showed. Both should take place Nov. 5, according to 84 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of independents and 67 percent of Republicans polled.
Schaffer filed the case on behalf of Giuseppe Grillo, Joseph Danielsen and Marie Corfield. Grillo is the executive director of the Monmouth County Democratic Organization and Corfield is a Democratic candidate for the Assembly.
The case is Grillo v. Christie, A-4648-12T2, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division (Trenton).
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