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GOP Appointee Challenged by Teacher Who Jousted With Christie in YouTube Video

Two seek to fill remainder of 16th District term of late Assemblyman Peter Biondi.

When veteran Assemblyman Peter Biondi (R-Somerset) died of cancer last year, two days after he had been re-elected into the lower house to represent the 16th District, Republican committee members in the district chose Donna Simon, a Readington Township committeewoman, to fill Biondi's seat.

Democrat Marie Corfield, an art teacher from Flemington who ran against Biondi and lost in last November's race, is trying to unseat Simon in this November's special election for the remainder of that Assembly term.

Maria Corfield, Democratic challenger for the Assembly seat in District 16.
Maria Corfield, Democratic challenger for the Assembly seat in District 16.

Corfield entered the public arena after harshly criticizing Gov. Chris Christie and his education cuts at a town hall meeting the governor held in Flemington two years ago. The confrontation was taped, and when it went up on YouTube, the video went viral -- prompting a slew of media attention.

She hoped last year that the redrawing of legislative district boundary lines, which gave her party a 28 percent-to-24 percent edge in voter registration -- would have bring her into office. But she and the other Democrats on the ticket came up short.

Corfield, 53, received a B.F.A. in fine and commercial art from Montclair State University and a master’s in the Art of Teaching from Marygrove College in Detroit. She has been an art teacher for 11 years and is on the executive committee of the Flemington-Raritan Education Association.

"I am living what is going on in the average middle class person's life," she said. "I'm not just talking the talk, I'm walking the walk.’’

"I am a single mother. I know what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck," added Corfield, who has two children. "I know what it’s like to stretch my budget. I know what kids are going through in public schools. I'm living it and I care very deeply and passionately about these issues because they affect me on a daily basis, and that gives me a greater impetus to help as many people as possible."

Donna Simon, Republican Assemblywoman for District 16.
Donna Simon, Republican Assemblywoman for District 16.

The incumbent, Simon, had been a stay-at-home mom for 12 years before entering public office. Her background is in cardiovascular technology, with experience in catheterization, electrophysiology and echocardiography, she said. Simon, 52, has worked in many hospitals, including Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. In addition, she has worked as manager for a pharmaceutical testing company and as deputy director for a child development center.

Simon, who is married with two children, has served on the executive committee of Court Appointed Special Advocates of Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren Counties, an organization that helps children in foster care. She has also served as a trustee for Volunteer Guardianship One-on-One, which provides guardianship services to adults in need, and as a volunteer in the Hunterdon County Marine Corps Detachment.

Simon served as a committeewoman in Readington Township in 2011. "While I was a committeewoman," Simon said, "I had a lot of experience with the budget."

She added, "My special interest is the taxpayer, no one else."

Simon was sworn into her Assembly seat in late January. Among other legislation, she is sponsoring a bill embodying Christie’s proposal to provide a 10 percent property tax credit capped at $1,000 to those earning up to $400,000 a year and legislation to make it easier for municipalities to merge.

Matthew Kassel is a freelance writer. His work has been published by The Wall Street Journal, NPR, and The Forward, among other publications.

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