This Is How Democracy Works - Changes in the 27th Legislative District
In politics as in life, nothing is for sure and things can change at a moment’s notice. In the June Democratic primary, voters in the 27th Legislative District, which encompasses Clifton, Livingston, Montclair, Millburn, Roseland, and West Orange, chose former New Jersey Governor Richard Codey to run for State Senate, and Assemblyman John McKeon from West Orange and Alixon Collazos-Gill from Montclair to run for State Assembly. The Republicans did not have any candidates running for this election cycle. However, on August 14th, Codey officially withdrew from the race, retiring from his long career in politics. Codey, the longest-serving lawmaker in New Jersey, will serve out the rest of his Senate term until January. He said the decision has nothing to do with his health but after a 50-year career, “Now, it’s time to trade all those trips to Trenton for more time as a husband, father, and grandpa.”
The vacancy on the ballot this created needed to be filled by following election law. According to New Jersey statute NJSA 19:13-20, “Title 19” and because LD 27 includes two counties, the vacancy needed to be filled at a joint meeting of the members of the County Committees of both Essex and Passaic Counties. A notice went out on August 21st via regular and electronic mail of an emergency meeting on August 24th to be held at West Orange High School. The timing was significant as candidates needed to be certified by the county clerks by August 27th.
It was unofficially announced in various media that McKeon would run for State Senate in Codey's place and Collazos-Gill would step down in favor of her husband, political strategist Brendan Gill. Rosauro “Rosy” Bagolie from Livingston would be added as a candidate. There was some controversy about Gill stepping in, with many voters saying online in various political forums that they had voted for a woman and not her husband. No official reasons for the change were given.
County Committee members arrived on the 24th, checked in, and were given three paper bracelets by party officials. The numbered bracelets – two yellow for Assembly and one red for State Senate – were affixed by officials around the committee members’ wrists, and a log was kept with names and numbers.
Per NJ law, a chairman had to be elected to conduct the meeting and Leroy Jones, the chairman of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee was voted in unanimously. McKeon’s name was put up as the party nominee for State Senate and was immediately voted in unanimously.
In a surprise twist, Brendan Gill announced that he and his wife were again switching roles and that Alixon Collazo-Gill, the original candidate, was going to run. “I stand before you humbled,” said Brendan Gill. “And I stand here to tell you that after a week of reflection and many conversations, especially those at home with Alixon, I will not be seeking nomination for state assembly. I ask you to please continue to support Alixon who has my undying support going forward, as well as Senator McKeon and the entire legislative 27th district.”
This is when things got even more interesting as Rosy Bagolie’s name was put up for a vote and seconded, as per procedure. When the Chairman asked if anyone else would be running, a surprise candidate stood up and put his name out for consideration. Former Newark Assemblyman Craig Stanley, now a West Orange resident, gave a speech on his perspective as a single African-American man, a point of view he felt was needed for the ticket. Because of this unexpected announcement, protocols were quickly put in place. County Committee members lined up by city to surrender one of their bracelets (snipped off by a Democratic official), numbers were compared to the log taken at check-in, and then committee members received a paper ballot that they filled out at a voting “booth” and deposited in a box with an opening. Once all ballots were completed and counted by officials and the candidates, it was announced that Bagolie had won by 107-59 votes and would be the party’s candidate for Assembly. It was truly a great example of effective democracy in action.
A brief description of each candidate follows and will be fleshed out in the coming weeks and months prior to the general election on November 7th.
Assemblyman John McKeon:
John F. McKeon served as a Council member, and then Mayor, of West Orange. He was first elected to the Assembly on November 6, 2001. His focus has been on social, environmental, financial, and judicial issues. He has also served as Deputy Speaker, Majority Whip, Assistant Majority Leader, and Assistant Majority Whip.
Livingston Commissioner Rosaura Bagolie
The 43-year-old Bagolie, known as Rosy, is the superintendent of the East Newark public school district and the principal of the East Newark School. She emigrated to the United States at age eight and grew up in Elizabeth. If she wins, Bagolie will become the second Dominican American to serve in the New Jersey Legislature as well as the legislature’s first Jewish Latina; her mother’s family were Dutch Jews who fled to the Dominican Republic via Curacao to escape the Nazis. Her husband, Ricky Bagolie, an attorney and a former Passaic-Clifton Unico president, grew up in Clifton. She has served as a commissioner on the Livingston Municipal Council.
A government affairs professional with over 15 years of experience, Collazos-Gill is a public affairs specialist working with the BGill Group, a full-service public affairs and political consulting firm. In 2015, Collazos-Gill was part of the second graduating class of Emerge New Jersey, a not-for-profit organization that trains Democratic women to run for public office. She also serves on the executive board of the New Jersey Hispanic Research and Information Center (NJHRIC) and Latinas United for Political Empowerment Fund (LUPE Fun).
All three candidates said they look forward to speaking to voters to learn what their concerns are over the next few months.