Friday, September 16, 2005

Mayor McWilliams on the verge of declaring for GOP?

Mayor Albert T. McWilliams will spend the weekend pondering whether to seek a third term, this time as a "fusion candidate" for Republican, Democratic and unaffiliated voters, he said Friday (Sept. 16, 2005).

In a fierce June primary struggle, McWilliams lost to Assemblyman Jerry Green's choice for mayor, Sharon Robinson-Briggs, by 325 votes out of 5,101 cast. In the Democratic reorganization just after the primary, he also lost the party chairmanship to Green. McWilliams had to put together his own slate of New Democrat candidates after he was rejected by the Regular Democratic Organization of Union County just days before the primary.

McWilliams said GOP Chairwoman Sandy Spector offered him the line Thursday to fill a vacancy created when Republican mayoral candidate Cheryl Arana dropped out. He said he has to give the GOP his answer by Monday (Sept.19, 2005). The official deadline to fill the vacancy is Wednesday.

"I'm honored to be considered," McWilliams said Friday. "This is an opportunity I and my family will consider."

McWilliams was the first two-term mayor in the city's history when he won re-election in 2001. Both his elections were powered by his "New Democrats," who after the June primary reorganized with Freeholder Adrian Mapp, a former City Council member, as president.

McWilliams said after June he wanted to know "how my opponent won without giving any factual information."

The warring Democrats crammed voters' mailboxes with glossy fliers that were heavy on rhetoric. A large contingent of unaffiliated voters became Democrats on Election Day so they could weigh in for one faction or the other.

As of Aug 1, 2005 the city had 1,164 registered Republicans, 9,250 Democrats (a 17 percent surge over pre-primary figures) and 8,708 unaffiliated voters, a 14 percent drop from before the primary.

Green said Friday he was not surprised at the GOP offer and predicted McWilliams will "come out of the closet" and declare "I am a true Republican."

"Here's an individual who in the last campaign (has) accused me as well as Democrats statewide of party politics," Green said, alleging McWilliams was now trading GOP support for a much-needed African-American credibility boost to Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Forrester. Green said Forrester only has a 6 percent rate of approval among blacks.

In return for campaign support, Green alleged, McWilliams would have "no problem going around the whole state with Doug Forrester."

"My biggest problem and embarrassment has been Al McWilliams," Green concluded sourly.

McWilliams said he has not discussed a possible GOP campaign with major Republicans in the state, just with Spector, his family and local supporters.

Asked whether he had looked into the legalities of a possible switch after losing the primary, McWilliams said, "That's probably a good idea." But he said he believed a recent case in Perth Amboy had set "a clear legal precedent."

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: mayor, elections