GOP Has Three Months If Primary Winner Drops Out, Dems 'Aggravated'
The deadline for filling a vacancy isn’t until Sept. 13, county officials say. And while Republican Peter B. Campbell is likely to bow out of the race, Fort Lee Council candidate Thomas Bennett says he’s “in it to the end.”
If the top Republican vote getter in Tuesday’s primary election bows out of the race for Fort Lee Borough Council, as he has said is his intention, the party has until September to fill the vacancy, an official with the Bergen County Election Division said.
Republican candidates Peter B. Campbell and Thomas Bennett received more votes Tuesday—Campbell had one more vote than Bennett—than Rossana Surace, whose name was added to the ballot after Campbell and Bennett filed to run together.
On the day before the election, Campbell told Patch that if he were to win, he would likely drop out of the race, and that if Surace won, he would gladly endorse her.
“Nobody stepped up to run for that seat at the time of the deadline for filing so I put my name in to hold the county line,” Campbell said at the time. “I would be an active and the true candidate if no one else were to stand up.”
Campbell reiterated his intention to step down the day after the election, NorthJersey.com reported, saying, “It was not an office that I sought; it was more that the office sought me.”
But Surace did step up—just a little too late. She finished a distant third in the voting, but getting her name on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election isn’t a foregone conclusion just because she was the next highest vote getter.
“It doesn’t automatically put that person in,” said county election supervisor Marlene Verrastro, adding that what used to be known as “the spoiler rule” no longer applies.
“Years ago if you lost in the primary, you were able to run as an independent,” Verrastro said. “Now what happens is that law was changed. Independents have to file by [4 p.m.] the day of the primary. Years ago if you lost the race you could have then run as an independent, but now you can’t.”
Instead, she said, there’s a process by which a candidate who wins the primary can withdraw from the race.
“They have to send a letter of resignation in, and the county committee has to meet, and they fill the vacancy,” Verrastro said. “They then have to file a vacancy certification form.”
She said Tuesday, Sept. 11, is the last day “a vacancy can occur.”
“That’s for someone who ran in the primary,” Verrastro added. “And it has to be filled by Sept. 13.”
Campbell told NorthJersey.com that the Bergen County Republican Organization (BCRO) could discuss filling the vacancy during a meeting next week, but BCRO recording secretary and Fort Lee GOP municipal chairwoman Judith Fisher wrote in an email to Patch, “Reorganization of the municipal and county committees is my primary focus currently.”
The other Republican candidate in the race for the two three-year seats on the Council, which has been dominated by Democrats for many years, however, says he has no plans to “step aside,” as Campbell said he would.
Bennett, 69, a retired postal supervisor who was elected to the Fort Lee Board of Education in 1977, served as president of the board in 1979, but otherwise has never been elected to public office, told Patch, “I didn't run so I could drop out.”
“I am in it to the end,” Bennett said in an email.
As for Tuesday’s primary election results, Bennett said it was “a nice showing by Peter Campbell; I hate to lose.”
The Democrats, incumbent Fort Lee Councilmen Joseph Cervieri, Jr. and Harvey Sohmer, were running unopposed. But they received far more votes—roughly 1,500 more—than any of the Republicans in what is seen as a largely Democratic borough.
“We were very happy that we got the votes that we received,” Sohmer said Thursday. “And we’re looking forward to a great November victory too.”
But Sohmer also said he was “aggravated at the Republican Party that they do this all the time.”
“They pick and choose, and that’s not the way it’s supposed to be,” Sohmer said. “If you’re picked for the Primary, you should be the person that runs.”
He added, “I’m not afraid of who we’re going to run against.”