MIDDLESEX, NJ—At a town hall event on Tuesday, Governor Christie pledged to look into a controversial election held in New Brunswick this January, in response to a question posed by the editor of New Brunswick Today.
"Can you please promise me that you will look into this matter and ask your Attorney General's office to make sure that there weren't any laws violated in our first-ever historic school board election?" asked the author of this article.
In front of the packed crowd, Christie responded, "Sure, what we'll do is get your information and we'll have the folks from elections division… call you directly."
"Elections are meaningless if they're not considered to be fair and impartial," Christie said. "And as somebody who is going to be on the ballot in November, I'd like a fair election too. I got a personal stake in this as well."
"We'll definitely get to it," he added.
New Brunswick Today first broke the story on January 17 that the Middlesex County government had given an unfair advantage to two candidates in the city's first-ever school board election.
But, this reporter also followed-up by asking questions during the county's televised public meeting that night. The ensuing conversation with the county's attorney became the basis for an entire series of articles and videos published in late February.
New Brunswick Today remains the only media outlet that has covered the irregularities with January's election.
After we asked the Governor to investigate on Tuesday, Christie's Director of Constituent Relations called the author of this article that same evening, requesting more information on the case.
In addition to the five articles we published on the election, this reporter submitted the following via email to Jeanne Ashmore, Director of Constituent Relations for the Governor's Office:
Synopsis of Election Irregularities
In November voters switched from a mayor-appointed board to an elected board for the first time in recorded history. But the results of that election, which was decided by less than 100 votes, were not certified until November 28. According to NJSA 19:60-2 and this document on the state website (http://www.state.nj.us/state/elections/2013-results/2013-0102-chron-guide-jan-special-school-board-election.pdf), the timing alone should have prevented the election from being held in January.
Nevertheless, under the advice of a special counselor who has since refused to answer questions, the board scheduled the election for January 22. They probably would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for some further funny business that gave an unfair advantage to two candidates supported by the city's political establishment.
The first four candidates to submit petitions were led to believe the deadline to file them was Friday December 21, the same date the County Clerk printed on the official document given to interested candidates. As that deadline passed, the clerk's office made it clear to all candidates present that the petition process was closed with four total candidates.
However, the same clerk's office re-opened the petition process on Monday December 24, under the advice of a government attorney who also serves as a political party official at the municipal level in New Brunswick. The clerk then accepted two additional candidate petitions at 9:02am, but made no attempt to announce the deadline change or contact the other candidates, effectively misleading them as to their competition on the ballot.
Meanwhile, the establishment candidates had the advantage of knowing which of two separate offices on the ballot their opponents were seeking, and an opportunity to select their opponents.
At the end of the day, the election was held in violation of state law and the general public was misled as to the the proper filing deadline in a way that fundamentally gave an advantage to candidates supported by the establishment.
If you have any questions, I would be happy to speak with someone any time of day or night. I can be reached at the following phone number: 732-993-9697
Thank you for looking into this.
New Brunswick, NJ
Ashmore's response, sent just over an hour later: "I will get this information over to the Attorney General's office."
New Brunswick Today is still waiting to hear from the Attorney General's office. We will be sure to update our readers as soon as there are further developments. Stay tuned.
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 and a community organizer, and was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.