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Legislative District 16

Redistricting and retirement may give Democrats a fighting chance in the traditionally Republican 16th.

The 16th District has been staunchly Republican for decades. But last spring's redistricting moved Princeton and South Brunswick, two typically Democratic voting blocs, into the 16th. That, coupled with the retirement of an incumbent and frustration about the overhaul of public employee benefits in June, have the Democrats hoping they can pull off an upset.

Incumbent Republican Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman of Branchburg has served in the Senate since 2008. He is currently deputy conference leader for the Republicans in the upper house. He was elected with 59 percent of the vote in 2007. Bateman voted for the bill that increased public employee contributions to pensions and eliminated cost-of-living adjustments for retirees.

His Democratic challenger is Maureen Vella, an attorney who is new to state politics.

The Democratic challengers for the two Assembly seats are only facing one incumbent.

Assemblyman Peter Biondi of Somerville has been in office since 1998 and has served as the Republican conference leaders for the past five years. He won re-election in 2009 with more than 62 percent of the votes.

Running with Biondi is Jack Ciattarelli of Hillsborough. Ciattarelli has been a Somerset County Freeholder since 2007 and has served as director of its board since 2010. He is the founder and CEO of Galen Publishing.

Ciattarelli replaces incumbent Denise Coyle of Basking Ridge on the ballot. Coyle is a forced retirement due to redistricting. Her hometown was moved into the 21st District, which is already represented by Republican incumbents. Coyle has been in the Assembly since 2008, and has been an assistant Republican leader since 2010.

Coyle withdrew her candidacy for reelection shortly after the redistricting announcement. Initially, she said that she would move to Princeton in order to continue serving the 16th, but then announced that the move was not feasible for her family. She won re-election two years ago with 61 percent of the votes.

The Democratic challengers are new to state politics. Joseph Camarota, who has been a South Brunswick Township Councilman since 2004, owns a small entertainment company. Marie Corfield of Flemington teaches art at an elementary school there and is on the executive committee of the Flemington-Raritan Education Association.

If there's any union anger against the benefits cutbacks it won't play a role in the Assembly race. Biondi, the only incumbent assemblyman on the ballot, was absent the day of the vote.

Despite the district's former Republican leaning, its current registration shows Democrats outnumber Republicans, 28 percent to 24 percent. An almost majority of voters are unaffiliated.

Voters will have a chance to hear the candidates address the issues at a debate at Princeton Township Municipal Hall on October 17.

Patience Haggin is a student at Princeton University. She writes about community politics in Princeton for The Daily Princetonian.

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