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Assembly Race: Legislative District 27

The Democratic incumbents aren't taking any chances in the redrawn 27th, outspending their Republican rivals 13 to 1.

West Essex’s well-known Assembly incumbents Mila M. Jasey and John F. McKeon are campaigning harder to introduce themselves to new Morris County voters, significantly outspending Republican challengers in their bid to win re-election, according to campaign finance records.

Nicole Hagner, the mayor of Chatham Township, and Lee Holtzman, a lawyer from Livingston, hope to unseat the incumbents in an election Holtzman called a “defining moment” for New Jersey during a candidate’s debate in Livingston.

The district now includes Republican communities from Morris County, joining the Essex County Democratic stronghold that made up the 27th before re-districting. Jasey and McKeon have spent 13 times as much as the Republicans in advertising and other campaign efforts, according to reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

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 an advocate for education. She was chief sponsor of the interdistrict school choice program and is sponsor of charter school reform. She also sponsored the anti-bullying bill of rights and the student-athlete concussion law. She said she hopes to use her experience as a public health nurse in a next term to focus on health-care issues for women and children.

Jasey said she is a proponent of shared services to control government spending. "Are we willing to consolidate our school districts and townships to save costs?" she asked during the League of Women Voter's debate in Livingston.

McKeon, a former mayor of West Orange, was elected in 2001. He serves as chairman of the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee and has sponsored a variety of legislation supporting the environment. He currently serves as the Assembly’s deputy speaker and was sponsor of legislation to cap New Jersey property taxes at 2 percent. McKeon raised a lot of money for the race, $187,353 according to the latest campaign finance records, and had about $69,000 left for the finish according to finance records filed 29 days before the Nov. 8 election. “We think we deserve to continue to be there for you,” he said.

Hagner said she entered politics in Chatham Township to “challenge incumbents who had become unresponsive to the people they were elected to serve.” She was elected to the township’s council in 2004 and points to her accomplishments as mayor as she takes on experienced incumbents at the state level.

Hagner, a pharmaceutical research director, and Holtzman, a property tax attorney, raised $40,000 for their campaign. They have $26,679 remaining as they canvass neighborhoods speaking out against sick time and vacation payments for public workers, tax hikes, and excessive spending on government programs and education. “Just putting money into schools doesn’t equate to better education,” Hagner said at the Livingston debate.

Holtzman said he’s been inspired by his father to make this run for office. His father, who passed away earlier this year, was a teacher in Bloomfield who offered this advice: “If you see that there’s a problem don’t just be a talker, do something about it,” Holtzman said in an interview a few days before the candidate’s debate.

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 as a reporter for The Philadelphia Business Journal.

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