NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Eight years ago, she was the new kid on the block at the city council. Now, Councilwoman Elizabeth Garlatti is poised to become the most senior member on the body if she can win re-election this November.
The city’s Democratic Party organization announced yesterday that Garlatti will be seeking a third term on the city council, according to a report on Patch.com.
However, her running mates, Robert Recine and Jimmie Cook, will be stepping down after sixteen years on the council. The organization’s statement gave no reason for their retirement, but Cook has been absent from meetings since October due to a health problem.
As president of the council, Recine has presided over several raucus meetings dominated by protestors angry over two police-involved shootings of city residents in the past six months.
Garlatti was chosen by her fellow councilmembers to serve as president from 2007 until 2010, when she presided over her share of rowdy meetings and intense public opposition. She was twice defeated in her campaigns to also serve on the city’s Democratic Committee by Yolonda Baker, in 2009 and 2011.
In 2008, the last time Recine, Cook, and Garlatti were on the ballot for city council, they did not face an opponent on the November ballot. They defeated zoning board member Jerry Mercado five months earlier in the primary.
Garlatti, who goes by the nickname “Betsy,” joined the council in 2004 and serves as the council’s rep on the city’s planning board, a key role in a city with so much development. She has worked for Rutgers University, the administration of Gov. Jim Florio, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and the Child Health Institute of New Jersey, according to her biography on the city’s website.
She currently works for the NJ Commission on Higher Education, a state government agency where she made $95,108 in 2009, according to MyCentralJersey.com’s DataUniverse, in addition to $9,000 for serving on the council.
Her husband Louis is the President & Owner of Albert Garlatti Construction Co. where he pulls in over $500,000 per year, according to the councilwoman’s financial disclosure forms. He also serves on the New Brunswick Parking Authority’s Board of Commissioners.
The couple owns well over a million dollars worth of real estate, including their home in New Brunswick, a vacation home in Monmouth Co., and three other properties in Middlesex Co., each listed as “commercial/industrial.” Garlatti’s construction company, based in Highland Park, does business with the state according to the forms.
The city’s Democratic Committee consists of a man and a woman elected from each of the city’s twenty-eight election districts. They will meet privately the evening of March 22 at the Hungarian Heritage Center to decide who will get the party’s official endorsement, also known as the “party line,” in the primary election to be held June 5.
The “party line” means the endorsed candidates’ names will appear in the same column as President Obama and other party-approved candidates for higher offices.
The winner of the Democrat primary has always gone on to win in November’s election ever since partisan elections were instituted in New Brunswick in 1970. The city’s Democrat candidates are bolstered by the what is known as the “coat-tail effect,” essentially spillover from being listed in the same column as Democrat candidates for U.S. President and other higher offices.
The party’s executive committee, which consists of just eight of the 56 elected Democratic Committee members, will interview any Democrats interested in the open positions and nominate three for the endorsement.
Garlatti is expected to keep her spot on the ticket, but is unclear who will be seeking the other two open seats. The local Democratic Chair, assistant city attorney TK Shamy, told the Home News Tribune he would soon be announcing the process for securing an interview.
A frontrunner for the council endorsement is Glenn Fleming, a Rutgers Village resident and preacher at the Abundant Life church on George Street. Fleming ran for City Council unsuccessfully in 2000, but scored points with the powers that be by serving as the public face of an astroturf campaign to protect the status quo in 2009.
The short-lived political organization he led, Unite New Brunswick, campaigned against a referendum that would have changed the way council members were elected. Rebecca Escobar was tapped to run for council shortly after she played a lead role in the campaign, which succeeded in defeating the citizen-initiated referendum question by a razor-thin margin.
Two years ago, when two council seats opened up, Benjamin Bucca, a women’s tennis coach at Rutgers and attorney for the city announced his intention to run for one of the seats.
Bucca interviewed with the committee but was passed over for Escobar and Kevin Egan, the son of outgoing Councilman Joe Egan and a union official at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Egan and his running mate joined the council after defeating primary challengers Martin Arocho and Rahman Johnson in June 2010, and running unopposed in the November election. Bucca ended his campaign after the executive committee chose not to support him in the primary.
Of course, the team that gets the party’s endorsement eight days from now still must win the June primary, or the organization could be forced to support other candidates in November. However, only once in recent memory have the party-approved candidates lost: in 1992, two of three Democratic challengers for the council prevailed in the June election.
The victorious challengers, Kathy Cupano and Bobby Brown, enjoyed the support of the party organization in the subsequent general election. They each served one term on the council.
Even so, it is still possible that the establishment ticket will face challenges this year, either in June, November, or both.
While the Council does have real political power, the Mayor’s Office is the true center of government and city politics. James Cahill has served as mayor since 1991, making him already the longest-serving mayor in city history. After Brown and Cupano upset two of his council candidates in the 1992 primary, every single member of the council elected since has been elected with the Cahill’s endorsement.
Most of the council’s substantive votes are unanimous, and they have been criticized for being a “rubber stamp” for the mayor’s policies.
Cahill has not yet said whether he will seek an unprecedented seventh term as the city’s top elected official. Garlatti, whose mother Patricia Shehan was elected Mayor in 1967, is rumored to be among the top candidates in line for the organization’s blessing to succeed Cahill on the ticket.
The mayor’s seat, as well as Egan’s and Escobar’s, are up for election in November 2014.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.