Changes resulting from the redrawing of legislative boundaries following the 2010 Census will likely mean little in the upcoming election for District 28, which remains a largely Democratic district.
But even though Democrats are confident of easy re-election, Republicans say voter anger over high property taxes gives them a shot at winning in November.
Essex County municipalities in District 28 feel “the brunt of the property tax burden,” said Al Barlas, chairman of the Essex GOP committee. Seeking relief, residents are supporting some of the more conservative reforms advocated by Gov. Chris Christie and Republicans, he added.
Still, Barlas acknowledged the challenge. “Do we have an uphill battle? Absolutely.”
With the redrawing of the legislative map, District 28 now comprises Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Irvington, parts of Newark, and Nutley. It used to include the rest of Newark and Belleville, but those have been moved to District 29, replacing Union County’s Hillside, now in District 20.
Long-time incumbent Senator Ronald Rice, Democrat of Newark, has been in office since 1986, and he is running against first-time Republican candidate Russell Mollica, a small-business owner from Bloomfield.
In the Assembly, Democratic incumbents Ralph Caputo, of Bloomfield, and Cleopatra Tucker, of Newark, are running against two first-time candidates: Republicans David Pinckney, a public school teacher from Irvington, and Carol Humphreys, a retired real estate agent from Bloomfield.
Democratic candidates in District 28 have been overwhelming victors. In the 2007 Senate and Assembly races, Rice beat Republican senatorial candidate Herbert Glenn by nearly 9,000 votes, while Caputo and Tucker each beat their Republican assembly opponents by a landslide.
Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Philip Thigpen expects similar election results this year despite the redistricting.
The redistricting is just “moving around the same people,” Thigpen said. “The response will be the same response as in the past.”
Barlas, who replaced Sen. Kevin O’Toole of the 40th District as the Republican Committee chair, agreed.
“There hasn’t been a lot of change in the district in terms of towns, or even the dynamic of it,” he said.
However, Barlas sees a potential opening for Republicans on the issue of education. Residents of Newark and Irvington are particularly concerned with the improvement schools and have shown receptiveness to conservative ideas like charter schools and school choice.
“That has been a central issue the [Republican] candidates are talking about and that has been well received by a lot of the residents,” Barlas said.
But Thigpen said the Democratic candidates are looking out for their constituents, including their efforts at improving education, creating jobs, and spurring the economy. The district’s legislators also have been supportive of labor unions, he noted.
“We have legislators who are dedicated people working very hard in their districts to be responsive to the people in their districts,” Thigpen said.