Betrayal forces Roselle Democrats to ‘do over’ organizational meeting

Denise Wilkerson, Donald Shaw, Cindy Thomas, Reginald Atkins

Assemblyman Reginald Atkins will reconvene a reorganization meeting of the Roselle Democratic Committee after a faction that thrives on chaos brought the municipal Democratic Party organization to court because the longtime leader successfully united both sides in a divisive primary election.

Atkins, who supported incumbent Mayor Donald Shaw for re-election, brought the primary challenger, former Assemblyman Jamel Holley, into to fold after the mayoral battle to create a united Democratic Party organization in Roselle.

Holley graciously accepted the assignment of serving as Atkins’ vice-chair, but that did not sit well with Council President Brandon Bernier and Councilwoman Denise Wilkerson, who are known to be minions of Senator Joe Cryan, the racist and misogynist career politicians who the former Roselle mayor and councilman challenged in 2021 for the senate seat representing Elizabeth, Union, Roselle.

After Atkins ignored several attempts to disrupt the party’s organizational meeting by Wilkerson and Bernier, the two council members took the Democratic Committee to court and secured a ruling from Superior Court Judge Mark P. Ciarrocca, a Republican from Westfield who was appointed by GOP Gov. Chris Christie in 2011.

The former Westfield councilman was recommended by then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., who is now a member of Congress considered close to some of the most extreme right-wing Republicans on the national scene, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (front right) speaks to Rep. Kevin McCarthy (front left) in the House Chamber as Rep. Tom Kean Jr sits in the row behind them
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (front right) speaks to Rep. Kevin McCarthy (front left) in the House Chamber as behind them in the center of the row sits Rep. Tom Kean Jr., who recommended the appointment of Westfield Republican Judge Mark P. Ciarrocca, who reversed the re-election of longtime Roselle Democratic Committee Chairman Reginald Atkins, at the request of Council President Brandon Bernier and Councilwoman Denise Wilkerson.

“Rev. Reginald Atkins successfully led the Roselle Democratic Party for many years, going year after year without a single Republican victory but even after he backed Denise Wilkerson, Brandon Bernier, and Joe Cryan, they did him dirty by trying to undermine the unity he forged,” said a member of the municipal committee who requested anonymity for fear of political retaliation by vindictive party bosses. “When she was a candidate and needed him, Wilkerson was glad to have Atkins’ leadership because even Roselle was more united than ever, even after she tried to tear the town apart with primary divisions and opposing the Democratic nominee for mayor.”

“It is important to promote racial equality and unity in our community, but my understanding is that the councilwoman is aiding a White political boss who is trying to disturb the harmony among African-American Democrats in an attempt to neuter his future potential rivals,” said the Democratic district leader. “She should never do anything that could jeopardize an opportunity for our community but Cryan convinced her to betray us.”

During the intervening gerrymandering process, Cryan arranged to get rid of Hillside, which has a significant African American population, and replaced it with nearly all-White Kenilworth, to diminish Black voting power in the 20th Legislative District.

By forging a peace deal with Holley, Atkins upset the plans of Wilkerson and Bernier, who hoped to create organizational gridlock and prevent the local Democratic Party from invigorating Black and Hispanic political power that could threaten White politicians who hold the majority of elected offices in the region.

The 20th Legislative District has 22 White elected officials, six Hispanic representatives, and only ten Black leaders, half of whom are from Roselle, including Atkins, Mayor Donald A. Shaw, Wilkerson, Third Ward Councilwoman Cynthia Johnson, and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Cindy Thomas.

Wilkerson and Bernier demanded the do-over meeting even though they know that their faction consists of only 18 county committee members in the borough, while Atkins and Holley have 20 district leaders on their side.

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