Since Rush Holt announced his retirement on Feb. 19, three candidates have announced their intention to run for New Jersey’s 12th district seat in the House of Representatives. The candidates are State Rep. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex), Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer) and Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Somerset).
Democratic party leaders in both Middlesex and Mercer County personally endorsed their respective candidates within 24 hours of the candidates’ public declaration to run. The endorsement prompted a public statement by Assemblyman and Chair of the Democratic Party in Union County Jerry Green, encouraging municipal leaders to fully consider all the candidates, the Star-Ledger reported.
Mercer County Democratic Committee Chairwoman Elizabeth Muoio and Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes personally endorsed Mercer County Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, the Star-Ledger also reported.
Muoio noted that though she personally supports Watson Coleman, the Mercer County Democratic Organization will hold an open convention on March 26 to endorse, as a whole, one candidate via majority vote. She noted that all candidates will have the opportunity to speak.
Hughes stated that he decided to support Watson Coleman rather than run himself because he believes her to be the best choice.
“Sometimes you have to put ambition aside and do what is right,” he said.
Hughes explained that he supports Watson Coleman because of her work ethic and good character. He added that as the first woman to represent the district and the first African-American woman to represent the state, she has the potential to bring new ideas to Washington.
Muoio said she believes Watson Coleman to understand the district because, of all the candidates, she has represented the largest number of 12th district towns in the State Assembly. Muoio noted that Watson Coleman has represented seven out of 10 towns in Mercer County.
“We’ve had a congressman who’s lived in Mercer county for 15 plus years in Rush Holt, and he’s been a fantastic congressman for the 12th congressional district,” Muoio said. “We’d like to continue to have the congressperson from the 12th from Mercer County.”
Municipal and party leaders in Union County have not officially endorsed a candidate, but will be holding a special meeting on March 12 to allow municipal leaders to familiarize themselves with all three candidates before endorsing one.
Chivukula said municipal leaders such as Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp, who also endorsed Watson Coleman, may have bypassed the democratic process by not considering other candidates.
“I thought it was my democratic right to be considered,” he added.
Chivukula said he believes himself to be capable of filling Holt’s shoes and has many things in common with him, including a background in engineering and science. He also cited a progressive and liberal record as Assemblyman and stated that he can make a valuable addition to Congress as a “problem solver.”
Chivukula also noted that Middlesex County Democratic Chairman Kevin McCabe threatened him when he first proposed running. Though he said he attempted to contact McCabe shortly after Holt announced his retirement, Chivukula said he was not able to speak with him until two days later, when the Chairman endorsed Linda Greenstein.
“Line up behind Greenstein and pull out,” Chivukula alleged McCabe told him, “Otherwise you will not get the line [official endorsement of Middlesex County Democratic Organization on the ballot] next year for your assembly seat.”
McCabe did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Hughes noted that Middlesex and Mercer will have more force in deciding the primary results than Somerset or Union because they typically have larger voter turnout.
However, Chivukula said he should not be counted out of the race because of this difference in voter turnout. He noted that his name is known in townships within Middlesex where he has served and noted that Franklin Township in Somerset has 16,799 registered Democrats.
The New Jersey primary election will be held on June 3.
Linda Greenstein, Watson Coleman and Mapp did not respond to multiple requests for comment.