Thursday, February 02, 2006

Attorney May Probe Mayoral Qualification Issue

At the City Council meeting Monday (Feb. 6, 2006) the governing body may authorize payment of up to $10,000 to attorney Angelo Genova as special counsel to look into the issue of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs’ qualifications.

Robinson-Briggs filed to run for mayor in April 2005 but may not have met the Plainfield City Charter requirement of being a registered voter for four years prior to the election.

In a previous controversy regarding her school board election, Robinson-Briggs was accused of not meeting the one-year residency requirement. But she was able to prove residency from April 2002 and took the seat.

However, upon becoming mayor as of Jan. 1, 2006, she had to step down from the board. The past controversy revived the question of when she moved back to Plainfield since relocating to Piscataway and also the issue of how long she was a registered voter in Plainfield.

According to election board records, she was registered in Middlesex County since 1996 and only switched to Union County in September 2002, a year short of the charter requirement to run for mayor.

Once Robinson-Briggs filed to run for mayor in April 2005, nobody challenged her qualifications by the official deadline. She won the June primary and the November general election.

Asked about the issue, City Council President Ray Blanco said he was relying on the fact that County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi certified election results for both the primary and general elections.

Republican Municipal Committee Chairwoman Sandy Spector wrote to the City Council in January to dispute the mayor’s qualifications. Spector and others backed former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams for re-election to a third term in 2005, but McWilliams lost his bid to run as a Republican in November after losing as a Democrat in the June primary. He then mounted a write-in campaign and though he was not on the ballot, he came in second after Robinson-Briggs and ahead of former Councilman Bob Ferraro, who was on the ballot as an independent candidate.

The move to hire Genova is in response to Spector’s inquiry.

Party candidates must file in April to run in the November election. There is a deadline for filing, which this year is 4 p.m. on Monday, April 10. Then there is a deadline to raise objections to a filing, which this year will be Friday, April 14. Even though objectors challenged petitions of candidates for the Democratic City Committee last April, nobody challenged Robinson-Briggs’ qualifications. Party officials said they were unaware of the charter requirement regarding mayoral candidates.

Democratic City Committee members were elected in the June 8 primary and took office at the Democratic Party reorganization on June 13. This year, the Republican Municipal Committee must field candidates for 68 seats and will reorganize after the June primary.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: charter, election