The 21st District encompasses 16 communities in Morris, Somerset, and Union counties: Berkeley Heights, Bernards, Chatham Borough, Cranford, Far Hills, Garwood, Kenilworth, Long Hill, Mountainside, New Providence, Roselle Park, Springfield, Summit, Warren, Watchung, and Westfield.
The district is represented by Republicans, but voter registration leans slightly Democratic: 31 percent to 28 percent. Unaffiliated voters traditionally swing the results to the “red” side of the ballot.
Both GOP Assembly members are on the ballot: Jon Bramnick of Westfield, who is the Republican leader in the lower house, and Nancy Munoz of Summit.
Three Democrats are seeking two slots on the November ballot. Jill LaZare of Summit is making her third try at a legislative seat. Lisa Mandelblatt of Westfield, who had filed to run for Congress last year but then bowed out, and Stacey Gunderman of New Providence are running as a team. They were endorsed by the Democratic committee in Union County, which holds the lion’s share of registered voters.
CANDIDATES IN CONTESTED PRIMARY
NJ Spotlight asked all candidates in contested races to fill out a brief survey about themselves and why they are running. These are the responses we received from 21st District candidates.
LISA MANDELBLATT: DEMOCRAT
Occupation: Attorney, educator, community leader, and former candidate for Congress
Family: Married to Gary Mandelblatt for 30 years. Two children: Eric (age 27) and Jennifer (age 24)
Education: JD, Fordham University School of Law; BA Government, Cornell University
Email/phone: firstname.lastname@example.org/(908) 612-5984
Why are you running for the Assembly? How we raise public funds and how we invest them put our values and priorities into action. We need representatives who share our values and will stand up for us. For too long we have been failed by career politicians who opposed gun violence reform, worsened our tax burden, neglected public transportation, infrastructure and our schools. If you really want to change Trenton, you start by changing the type of people you send to Trenton.
I am an attorney, educator and community leader. I have dedicated my life to making a difference in others’ lives. As your state Assemblywoman, I am committed to modernize public transportation, invest in infrastructure and education, reduce our tax burden, support small businesses and make the tough decisions to fix the fiscal crisis in state government for future generations. I will listen, be responsive, be accountable and bring fresh approaches because you deserve better.
There is a lot of work to do to get New Jersey back on track and I have never been afraid of hard work or backed away from a challenge. With your support, I will represent our shared priorities and values, always be on your side, and work tirelessly for the 21st Legislative District.
What are your three top priorities if elected? Modernizing public transportation and investing in infrastructure; investing in education; reducing our tax burden.
What makes you the best candidate? I’m an attorney, educator, community leader and mom. I know what is at stake in this election. We have a unique opportunity to flip these two Assembly seats, but we can only do so by putting the best candidates on the ballot.
I grew up in this district and moved back here to raise my family. I have been working with and listening to my neighbors and hearing what they want: access to quality, affordable healthcare; strong schools where their children spend time actively learning, not practicing active-shooter drills; clean water, clean air and real progress made on climate change; money raised more fairly and invested more wisely; the rights of women, people of color, LGBTQ folks expanded, not contracted; and a public transportation system that works. People know me and they trust me. And I’ve done this before. I know what it takes to put together a campaign and the hard work that it takes to be a candidate.
It’s time for the people of LD21 to have representatives who will fight for them.
STACEY GUNDERMAN: DEMOCRAT
Hometown: Lansdale, PA; live in New Providence
Occupation: Sales associate at Erickson Living
Family: Married to Mark. Two sons, ages six and three
Education: I am a high school graduate. My family’s financial situation didn’t afford me the opportunity to go to college. Instead, I worked, took some community college classes, and, at age 21, moved to New York City to pursue acting. Within a year I had my Equity card. After stepping away from acting, I obtained financial and insurance licenses, including my Series 6 and 63 as part of my professional career.
Why are you running for the Assembly? I am running … because enough is enough. After the 2016 election, I asked myself what I could to do to be a part of the change I wanted to see in my community. I started by organizing buses to the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. Then I revitalized the long-dormant New Providence Democratic Club. In 2018, “red” New Providence voted for now-Rep. Tom Malinowski. Now I am running because we can do more. For too long, the 21st District has been failed by disconnected politicians that oppose gun-violence reforms, worsened our tax burden, and neglected our public transportation, infrastructure and schools.
What are your three top priorities if elected? Modernizing public transportation; investing in infrastructure and education; reducing the tax burden.
What makes you the best candidate? My story isn’t the typical life story of those entering politics. Rather, it is the story of you, or your neighbors, or friends. As a young professional, I learned about insurance and finance working for a Fortune 100 company. I’ve thrived in sales, and in my current role I’m helping New Jerseyans secure their retirement homes here in the Garden State. My business know-how wasn’t taught to me in a classroom; I learned it in real world experiences as a working mom with two young boys.
I want to bring my unique experiences to Trenton, where we must take on the affordability crisis, protect our environment for future generations, modernize our transportation system, and strengthen our schools.
These public policy challenges require new ideas and fresh approaches to achieve the innovative solutions we need to move New Jersey forward, and as your state Assemblywoman, I know that together we can make happen. I will listen, be responsive, be accountable and bring fresh perspectives because the residents of the 21st legislative district deserve better.
JILL LAZARE, DEMOCRAT
Family: Married to Rick Levine for 17 years. Children: Yes.
Education: J.D., Rutgers University Law School; B.S., Computer Science, Monmouth University; attended the New England Conservatory of Music for piano, studied abroad in Vienna.
Email/phone: email@example.com/(908) 451-8981
Why are you running for the Assembly? I want to support Governor Murphy’s plan to move New Jersey forward, which is why the voters overwhelmingly cast their votes for him.
The New Jersey Assembly and Senate are already controlled by Democrats. We do not need more Democrats in Trenton, we need the RIGHT Democrats: Democrats who will put working families above all else, including their re-election chances. I will listen to the people of my district and work hard for them every day.
Growing up down the Shore, I developed a strong appreciation for our beautiful coastline, and I keenly understand the need to protect our environment. I will also be a fierce advocate for gun control and for fairer school funding for all of New Jersey’s students.
Just as the Democrats nationally are considering who has the best chance of beating Donald Trump, Legislative District 21 Democrats should consider who has the best chance of beating the incumbent Republicans in the fall. I believe my experience puts me in the best position to flip an Assembly seat from red to blue. In fact, I was endorsed by all of the newspapers representing the Somerset County and Morris County towns in LD 21 who said I was one of “the best candidates to take on [Republican incumbents Jon] Bramnick and [Nancy] Munoz in the fall.” It was also their opinion that I am “the best candidate to speak up for residents, those people who have seemingly been forgotten amid the infighting in Trenton.” And that’s exactly what I want to do and why I am running for Assembly.
What are your three top priorities if elected? Our crushing debt will prevent us from addressing other priorities in the state if we don’t pay it down, and soon. I support Gov. Murphy’s plan to ask our very highest earners and large corporations to pay their fair share. I don’t believe reducing our debt should be done on the backs of NJ public workers and teachers. We also must fix our transit system. Some people in the district still don’t have a one-seat ride to NYC, and those who do don’t have an efficient, on-time, reliable train. We must stop siphoning money away from transit funding.
I also want to ensure that everyone in NJ has access to affordable healthcare including prescription drugs. Gov. Murphy took a big step toward that goal by establishing a state individual mandate and starting to set up a state-run health exchange. I support changes to existing statutes to make that a reality, protect provisions banning lifetime caps, protect pre-existing conditions, and keeping children on a parent’s plan to age 26.
What makes you the best candidate? I am the most qualified candidate running to be an Assembly member in LD 21 because I have already been in Trenton working as an advocate and fighting to get bills passed. Seven years ago, tragedy struck my family when my daughter, Brooke, died from a drug overdose. I became involved with the Drug Policy Alliance of New Jersey and began going to Trenton to fight for legislation to address the opioid epidemic, to prevent this tragedy from happening to other New Jersey families. Meeting with legislators, I fought to pass what became the Drug Overdose Prevention Bill, to encourage quick reporting and requests for help from first responders. I continue to serve on panels and work with others in the field to combat the opioid crisis.
I had to be able to turn adversity into something positive in other ways as well. I got out of an abusive marriage and put myself through Rutgers Law School. After graduating, I went into litigation, arguing as high up as the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the 2nd and 3rd Circuits. I started my own law practice in 2005 where I represent victims of domestic violence, along with practicing in many other areas of the law. So I am also a small-business owner who understands the challenges that small-business owners face. Moreover, I understand the 21st District. I have been a practicing attorney, and also a Summit resident, for 20 years.
Born and raised in NJ, I am a Public Defender in the District — Roselle Park — as well as the Administrative Vice President of the National Organization for Women-NJ. I have spent the last six years knocking on doors in the district, talking to residents, hearing their concerns, and also helping local Democratic parties in LD 21 to grow and win seats in their towns.