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Legislative District 27

A newly redrawn 27th still favors Democrats but gives incumbents and challengers good reason to knock on doors.

Some well-known political faces from the Democratic Party have been knocking on some unfamiliar doors in the new 27th district. And Republican newcomers say the newly redrawn map leaves a crack in those doors to unseat the incumbents.

"I think it's more than a little opening now that I'm into it," said Lee Holtzman, a Republican running his first campaign for state Assembly.

The new 27th District is viewed as more competitive, with GOP enclaves in Morris County testing the reach of state Sen. Richard Codey and Assembly incumbents Mila M. Jasey and John F. McKeon. The district still favors the Democrats, but the lawmakers have spent "time and energy introducing ourselves" to new constituents, Jasey said.

Conservative Tea Party candidate William Eames, co-founder of the Morris Patriots and running as a Republican, won an upset victory in the spring primary for the right to contest Codey's seat in the Senate. Nicole Hagner is the other GOP Assembly candidate.

Codey, a former governor and the longest-serving current member of the legislature, is not taking the challenge lightly.

"I'm going to campaign. I've been campaigning and I'm not going to stop until November," Codey said.

Jasey and McKeon, both well-known in Essex, have been canvassing in new neighborhoods in Florham Park, East Hanover and Hanover.

The new map swayed Holtzman to run since those Morris County Republican enclaves makes the district more competitive. Campaigning for the first time since his senior year of law school, Holtzman says he's already "gone through a lot of shoes" going door-to-door.

Holtzman, a lawyer from Livingston, and Hagner, a pharmaceutical research director who was elected to Chatham Township Council in 2004, are campaigning against tax hikes and recently won the endorsement of the New Jersey branch of the National Federation of Independent Business. They've also spoken against sick time and vacation payments for public workers and against a proposed gasoline tax.

Jasey and McKeon are running on their bipartisan record on education and the environment. Jasey first won election in 2007 after serving three terms on the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education. She is a member of the Assembly Education Committee, and a sponsor of charter school reform bill. McKeon, a former mayor of West Orange, was elected in 2001. He serves as chairman of the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee.

"I get the sense people are fed up by both Washington and Trenton not solving the problems. They want results. They want jobs to be created," Jasey said. "There's a growing concern we're not coming out of this recession fast enough."

Codey talked about putting "party politics aside" when he won a key endorsement from 10 Republicans in the new district. He hopes that support will influence Republican voters in November to help him retain the seat he has held since 1982.

His challenger has been a resident of Whippany for nearly 30 years and coordinator of Grassroots-NJ.

The other Morris municipalities in the redrawn 27th District are Chatham Township, Harding and Madison.

The Essex County municipalities include Caldwell, Essex Fells, Livingston, Maplewood, Millburn, Roseland, South Orange, and West Orange.

Marilyn Joyce Lehren was editor of Livingston Patch in Essex County. She has written on a variety of issues, including education, and has worked as a copy editor at The Times of Trenton and a reporter for The Philadelphia Business Journal.

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