Incumbent Democrat Faces Familiar Foe in Assembly District 4

Matthew Kassel | October 4, 2012 | More Issues
Questions of residency put outcome of last year’s contest in hands of courts

Gabriela Mosquera, Democratic Assemblywoman for District 4.
In a repeat of last November’s campaign, Republican Shelley Lovett is challenging Democrat Gabriela Mosquera, the incumbent state assemblywoman, for the remainder of an unexpired term in South Jersey’s District 4.

This is one of three state Assembly seats races on the ballot in a year dominated by federal elections. And the fact that it is even on the ballot makes for a strange tale.

Last November, Mosquera was elected to the Assembly,defeating Lovett by a margin of 6,300 votes or 15 percentage points. Mosquera’s ascendancy to the lower House, however, became knotted with complications. In the wake of Mosquera’s victory, Lovett quickly moved to challenge her opponent’s victory on the grounds that Mosquera had not lived in the district long enough to have sought the office.

The state’s constitution requires that, before an election, Assembly candidates must live for at least one year in the district they are seeking to represent. Mosquera, a Gloucester Township resident, had only lived in the 4th District for 10 months and eight days when she was elected.

In January, Camden County Superior Court Judge George Leone voided Mosquera’s election, essentially ignoring a federal court order from 2002 that had prohibited the enforcement of the state’s residency rule in years like 2011 in which the legislative district boundaries are redrawn. The judge basically said the action of the reapportionment means potential candidates may not have enough time to relocate to a district in which they want to run a full year in advance.

Later last January, Mosquera got Leone’s ruling overturned by the appellate court, but just before she could be sworn in, the state Supreme Court stepped in to reinstate the invalidation.

The court allowed the Democratic Party to appoint a temporary seat-filler and it chose Mosquera. She was sworn into office in early March.

But she pursued the action in federal court and four months ago, a federal court deemed the state Supreme Court had acted in error, again stating that the residency rule was unconstitutional.

While that validated Mosquera’s win and her right to keep her seat in the Assembly, her attorney said it could not overturn the state Supreme Court ruling and, thus, Mosquera would still have to face off against Lovett in this November’s special election.

She is not expected to have much trouble winning again as the district, which includes portions of Camden and Gloucester counties, is predominantly Democratic. As of June 3, 2011, 57,663 Democrats and 22,996 Republicans were registered in the district, with 64,182 voters remaining unaffiliated.

Both Mosquera and Lovett ran unopposed in the primaries last June.

Born in Ecuador, Mosquera received her bachelor’s degree in political science from The College of New Jersey and an M.B.A. from Devry University’s Keller School of Management. She serves on the Assembly committees for Commerce and Economic Development, Financial Institutions and Insurance; and Woman and Children.

Mosquera moved to New Jersey at the age of 3, and became a U.S. citizen at the age of 18. She was the first person in her family, she said, to have graduated from college.

“I grew up in an immigrant community,” Mosquera said. “I understand that people don’t know where to go when they need help, so I have committed my life to government.

“I see myself as a conduit between government and the community,” continued Mosquera. “Government can be very intimidating, very frustrating, with lots of complexities and red tape. I see myself as someone who can navigate somebody through that complexity and get the answers that they need.”

Lovett, a resident of Gloucester Township for more than 30 years, received a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from William Paterson College. She has been elected twice to the Gloucester Township Council. According to her website, Lovett has also been involved with several organizations, including the Highland Youth Soccer Club, the Lazarus Mission Mentoring Program, the Triton High School Music Association and the U.S. Naval Academy Parents Club of New Jersey.

Lovett did not return numerous requests to comment.