by Sophie Nieto-Munoz, New Jersey Monitor
An adviser to Gov. Phil Murphy who was set to replace his wife as an Assembly candidate opted to stay out of the race during a meeting of Democrats in Essex County on Thursday, a surprise twist in a messy behind-the-scenes fight that broke out in public last week.
Brendan Gill, an Essex County commissioner, had been expected to seek the Democratic Party’s nod for an Assembly seat in the 27th District in November, but Gill told the group of Democrats gathered in West Orange High School’s gymnasium that he had changed his mind and that he supported his wife, Alixon Collazos-Gill, for the seat instead.
“I stand here to tell you after a week of reflection, of back and forth, of many different conversations, but most importantly, the conversation at home that begins and ends with my wife, Alixon Collazos-Gill, that I will not be seeking the nomination for state Assembly this evening,” Gill told a crowd of nearly 200 Democrats.
The now-he’s-running-now-he’s-not drama started last week when longtime state Sen. Dick Codey announced he will retire from the Legislature in January and so would not seek reelection in November after all.
Codey was slated to appear on November’s ballot as the Democratic nominee for the district’s Senate seat, with Collazos-Gill and Assemblyman John McKeon as the party’s nominees for the two Assembly seats.
Codey’s decision to withdraw from the race forced Democratic Party leaders to decide who would replace him on the ballot in the Senate contest. Both Gill and McKeon expressed interest, and Democrats ultimately went with McKeon.
Gill then said he would seek the Assembly seat and Collazos-Gill would drop out of the race, leading to howls from critics who accused Gill of pushing his wife out of the race to further his own ambitions. Collazos-Gill said in a statement last Saturday that it was her own decision to abandon her Assembly campaign.
But on Thursday, Collazos-Gill said she decided not to suspend her campaign after she thought of the voters who cast ballots for her in June’s Democratic primary, voters who, she said, were inspired by her campaign to become the district’s first Latina legislator.
“When I made the choice that I wanted to step down, I also felt like I had the right to change my mind back,” she said. “So yeah, I was torn … so I’m glad I came around.”Assemblyman John McKeon will be Democrats’ choice for the state Senate seat in the 27th District in November. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)
During Thursday’s meeting, Democrats voted to back McKeon as the district’s Senate candidate and Livingston Councilwoman Rosaura Bagolie to replace McKeon as the district’s other Assembly candidate. This district, which includes towns like Montclair and Clifton, is expected to go Democrats’ way in November.
Gill will remain in the race for Essex County commissioner, a seat he has held since 2011.
Leroy Jones, the Essex Democratic chair, brushed off criticism that Democrats had engaged in backroom deals in an attempt to hand Gill the Assembly seat. Jones said everyone will have a “conspiracy theory when it comes to the business of politics.”
“We had a process here where a vote was actually taken, and it yielded a candidate that will go on the ballot, and everybody walked away respectfully and embraced the decision they made,” he said.
He added: “That was democracy at its best, so anybody that suggested there was some issue with transparency should have been here tonight.”
Gill and Collazos-Gill said they had been having daily discussions about the Assembly race in the last week and did not make a final decision until Thursday, when Collazos-Gill affirmed she wanted to remain in the race. Gill said “the minute” his wife made her decision, “it was important for me to take my name out of the nomination.”
“She never removed her name for the ballot, so the opportunity was still there,” Gill told reporters. “It was important for me … when this whole process started, that the diversity of the district be protected, and it was her decision.”
Gill said he wanted there to be a transparent election, and saw many people “jumping to conclusions about … why people were doing certain things and what their motivations were.”.