After remaining neutral until the county committee members made their selection, Gov. Phil Murphy and State Sen. Loretta Weinberg announced their support for the ticket in the 37th Legislative District headed by Assemblyman Gordon Johnson.
The announcement by Murphy and Weinberg comes after Johnson received nearly 80% of the Bergen County Democratic Committee (BCDC) votes to be the party’s State Senator nominee in the district—garnering 232 of the 292 ballots cast to be the party’s nominee to replace the retiring Weinberg.
Johnson will team with Shama Haider and Ellen Park who are seeking the Assembly seats in the district. Haider and Park replace the original choices to run with Johnson—Teaneck Democratic Municipal Chairwoman Alexandra Soriano-Taveras and Palisades Park Mayor Christopher Chung. The Assembly seats are open as Johnson and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle are both vying for the State Senate seat.
“I’m proud and humbled to head the most diverse, most inclusive and most exciting ticket in New Jersey,” said Johnson. “These two women are dynamic, powerful advocates for our community and I cannot wait to make Bergen County history alongside them.”
Haider and Park were nominated after Soriano-Taveras’ decision to leave the race follows her apology after calling for a boycott of Jewish businesses at a rally last July, while Chung stepped aside due to a State Comptroller’s Office investigation that found financial irregularities related to Palisades Park officials failing to follow a state law that capped sick leave payouts for municipal employees among other financial missteps.
In a press statement, the Governor said Johnson, an early backer of Murphy in his 2017 gubernatorial campaign, would continue the work of Weinberg as an ally for working families in the fight for racial and social justice as well as making healthcare more affordable and accessible.
Murphy, Weinberg Endorsement
“I’m incredibly proud to endorse Gordon Johnson, Shama Haider, and Ellen Park to carry the torch forward for residents of the 37th District,” said Murphy.
Weinberg noted in working with Johnson for nearly two decades, they together have led the fight to increase the minimum wage, enact stronger gun control laws, and ensure equal protection regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
“We know there is still so much work left to be done,” said Weinberg. “That is why we need not only Gordon Johnson as our next State Senator, but two incredibly accomplished women, Shama Haider and Ellen Park, to work alongside him in the State Assembly.”
Haider, Park Bios
Before emigrating to the United States, Haider served as secretary to the First Lady of Pakistan. Haider is currently the Tenafly Democratic municipal chair and former councilwoman in the town. An attorney, Park’s previous legislative experience was as a councilwoman in Englewood Cliffs.
Backers lauded the diversity of the historic ticket, which if elected would make Johnson the first Black State Senator from Bergen County along with Haider the first Pakistani American and the first Muslim and Park the first Korean American woman to serve in the State Legislature.
“As a Tenafly councilwoman and Democratic municipal chair, I have always known Shama to be a hardworking and passionate voice for our shared Democratic values,” said Weinberg in her endorsement statement. “Similarly, I have known Ellen to be a strong and effective advocate for the residents of Englewood Cliffs, and together with Gordon they will be the progressive champions District 37 needs.”
Vainieri Huttle Campaign Kickoff
But Vainieri Huttle believes the BCDC convention showed Democrats want an open primary to determine who are the best candidates to represent the 37th LD.
Vainieri Huttle, who decided not to seek the party’s nomination for what she perceived as party leaders pushing Johnson, stated that the 60 abstentions during BCDC convention “speaks for itself.”
“Democrats want a party that is true to its values of transparency and fairness,” she said in a press release. “The Bergen County Democratic Committee has operated in the shadows and back rooms for far too long. We deserve a party that works for us, not one that is doubling down on a broken process.”
Vainieri Huttle and her running mates for Assembly, Teaneck Councilwoman Gervonn Romney Rice and Tenafly Council President Lauren Kohn Dayton, are positioning their campaign as a grassroots effort centered on progressive issues. Many of the endorsements the Vainieri Huttle tickets have received are the most ardent progressive supporters of Gov. Murphy.
“We understand that this is not your average campaign,” said Vainieri Huttle. “We are asking the voters of the 37th Legislative District to stand with us for progressive, positive change to get us to Trenton. People across our district know this is a team they can be proud of.”
Romney Rice characterized the all-female ticket being made up of progressive leaders bucking the party leaders.
“We are three effective, passionate leaders who were each told ‘it wasn’t our time’, so we made it our time,” said the said Teaneck Councilwoman. “The time to serve our community is always now and we are ready to get to work.”
Kohn Dayton added “(We) are three qualified and dedicated elected officials ready to go to Trenton to tackle the difficult challenges that burden our community and to create a better quality of life for District 37 and New Jersey residents.”
Besides the race in the 37th, the BCDC renominated incumbents in the 32nd, 35th, 36th and 38th districts. They include State Sen. Nicholas J. Sacco and Assemblymebers Angelica M. Jimenez and Pedro Mejia in the 32nd, State Sen. Nellie Pou and Assemblymebers Shavonda E. Sumter and Benjie E. Wimberly in the 35th, State Sen. Paul Sarlo and Assemblymebers Clinton Calabrese and Gary S. Schaer in the 36th, and State Sen. Joseph A. Lagana and Assemblymebers Lisa Swain and P. Christopher Tully in the 38th.
Seeking to pick up seats currently held by Republicans, Bergen Democrats tabbed Ruth Dugan, the wife of former State Sen. James P. Dugan, to run for Senate in the 39th district, and Ridgewood Deputy Mayor Michael Sedon in the 40th. For Assembly, Democrats picked Melina Iannuzzi and Karlito Almeda in the 39th, and Genevieve Allard in the 40th. Allard’s running mate will come from Passaic County.
Endorsement for county seats went to County Clerk James Hogan, Sheriff Anthony Cureton, Surrogate Michael Dressler, and County Commissioners Steven Tanelli and Tracy Silna Zur, all incumbents.