Fortgang Falls, Edge Advances To November Assembly Election

By on June 6, 2017

Bill Edge and Laura Fortgang

Verona resident Laura Fortgang has failed in her bid for a spot on the Democratic party ticket for New Jersey state Assembly this fall, coming in third in all counties in today’s contested primary for the 26th state Assembly district. E. William “Bill” Edge, who served on the Verona Town Council from 1987 to 1994 but no longer lives in Verona, finished first among the Democratic candidates.

Fortgang faced an uphill journey since announcing her candidacy in March. Democrats in Morris County, which accounts for the bulk of the NJ26th towns, held a convention before ballot filings were due, and voted to put three other individuals on its ticket: Elliot Isibor for Senate, and Joseph Raich and Edge for Assembly. As a result, Fortgang’s name was put on the ballot below those of the other Democrats in one of the first contested primaries in the district in a very long time. Leroy Jones, chairman of the Essex County Democratic Committee, said of Fortgang in March that, “It’s always good to see new candidates emerge on the scene”, but did not actively challenge Morris County’s slate.

“We ran a great campaign, met wonderful people and yet could not sit by and let the status quo be the norm,” Fortgang said this evening. “Against the recommendation of the party, we tried to pull off an almost impossible feat. I am saddened by voter apathy,” she added. “If anyone had done their homework, and looked at who the party recommended, they would have voted differently.”

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Fortgang, who is a long-time small business owner but a political novice, trekked all over the 26th district since March, attending Boy Scout pancake breakfasts, Memorial Day parades, speaking at more than a few candidates forums and going door-to-door in many towns. The 26th district sprawls across towns in three counties: Fairfield, North Caldwell, West Caldwell and Verona in Essex County; Butler, Jefferson, Kinnelon, Lincoln Park, Morris Plains, Parsippany-Troy Hills, and Rockaway in Morris County; and the Passaic County town of West Milford. 

Turnout was low among Democrats across the 26th, with just 1,221 ballots cast in Passaic county, 3,198 cast in Essex County, and 10,982 cast in Morris County. Republicans fared slightly better, with 2,505 votes cast in Essex, 2,622 in Passaic and 20,601 in Morris. The 26th state district has been gerrymandered over the years to favor Republicans, although roughly 41% of registered voters are not affiliated with either major party. 

The Republican ticket for the 26th was also a contested primary. Assemblyman Jay Webber, who was first elected in 2007, and Assemblwoman BettyLou DeCroce, who was appointed to the Assembly in February 2012 after the death of her husband, were challenged by Morris County Freeholders William “Hank” Lyon and John Cesaro. Webber and DeCroce both survived that challenge, though Webber polled significantly better than DeCroce.

Edge garnered the most votes in Verona, with 558 to 492 for Fortgang, and 421 for Raich. On the Republican side, Webber had 284 votes, DeCroce had 233, Lyon had 83 and Cesaro had 51. Turnout was low, with just 2,122 ballots cast,  or 20.36% of registered voters. Turnout was the strongest in Verona’s District 1, which includes both Claridge towers, at 23.9%. Voting for District 1 was moved to the condominium complex last year after more than four decades at Laning Avenue School. Verona turnout was lowest in District 4, the Wedgewood Drive apartments and neighboring streets, at just 9.7%.

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In the governor’s race primary, Verona voted for Phil Murphy on the Democratic ticket and Jack Ciattarelli on the Republican side. The New York Times and other media outlets have called the former race in favor of Murphy but Ciattarelli, a Republican assemblyman from Somerset County, appears to have fallen short of his challenge to Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.

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