Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Court case looming large for local GOP?

County Republicans filed papers Tuesday (Sept. 20, 2005) naming Mayor Albert T. McWilliams as their choice to fill a vacancy created when Cheryl Arana bowed out of the city's mayoral race, but GOP County Chairman Phil Morin said Tuesday afternoon he expected a legal challenge to the move.

McWilliams was a lifelong Democrat until he changed his party affiliation Monday (Sept. 19, 2005) in order to accept the invitation to run on the GOP line. In June, the two-term incumbent failed to win the Democratic primary by 325 votes out of 5,101 cast for mayor.

County Democrats may undertake a legal challenge based on a state law that says anyone who was a primary candidate may not switch parties to run in the November general election. The sticking point is whether the law addresses vacancies that occur when a primary candidate withdraws.

Some legal pundits believe there is no case law on the subject and it may break ground.

Even though months of speculation preceded the mayor's decision, it still came across as an affront to the Democratic Party and at a meeting Friday (Sept. 16, 2005) Assemblyman and Plainfield City Committee Chairman Jerry Green asked members to pledge allegiance to the party.

Green claims all did, but among personal statements, Councilman Cory Storch said, "No one has my vote - neither Al or Jerry. I joined the Council to help Plainfield move in a positive direction, not to be a rubber stamp for political leaders. Al has done good things for Plainfield during his tenure as Mayor and City Committee chair. Whoever becomes the next Mayor will have my support to help Plainfield. But if actions are taken by the city administration that are not in the best interests of Plainfield, I will oppose those actions. I am a Democrat and an independent thinker and will act accordingly."

Events leading up to the current situation include:

A Thursday (Sept. 15, 2005) meeting of the Plainfield Republican City Committee to consider nominees for the vacancy.

A Friday (Sept. 16, 2005) meeting of the Democratic City Committee to ask all members to pledge commitment to all Democratic candidates on the line for the 2005 general election.

A Saturday (Sept. 17, 2005) press conference at the home of Mayor Albert T. McWilliams to announce the Republican endorsement.

A Monday (Sept. 19, 2005) Plainfield Republican City Committee endorsement and change of party affiliation by McWilliams.

A Tuesday (Sept. 20, 2005) confirmation from GOP County Chairman Phil Morin that the vacancy had been filled.

In switching, McWilliams goes from a Democratic Party with nearly all 68 possible City Committee seats filled (mostly due to challenges to Green's party rule) to a party with less than half its committee seats filled.

Republican City Committee Chair Sandy Spector talked about an "overwhelming majority" of committee members endorsing McWilliams, but on further questioning, she said the number was 20 of 23 members present for the meeting.

At Monday's City Council meeting, former Democratic Mayor Rick Taylor warned council members who were elected as McWilliams insurgent "New Democrat" allies that their future political careers now depended on showing their allegiance to the Regular Democratic party headed by Green.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: elections