Local Election Roundup

November 9, 2023

Lakewood Delivers Historic Victory for Avi Schnall

Meir Kass

Lakewood on Tuesday followed the unanimous call of gedolim across the frum spectrum and propelled Avi Schnall to a historic victory in the 30th District’s Assembly race, defeating incumbent Ned Thomson and installing the first-ever frum resident of Lakewood in a position of real influence in Trenton as a member of the majority party.

The campaign was a backbreaking one, with a broad coalition of askanim and laypeople joining forces over the past six weeks to spur Lakewood voters to polling stations in support of Avi Schnall, who has led Agudath Israel’s New Jersey office for the past decade.

The united call of the gedolei haTorah was the most crucial aspect of Schnall’s historic victory. Some 20,000 frum votes were cast in his favor in Lakewood, while just 300–400 individuals from frum neighborhoods voted for Ned Thomson, providing a striking demonstration of Lakewood’s kavod haTorah—and the political clout it wields when voting as a bloc.

The results, which came in late Tuesday night, showed a resounding victory for Schnall. The upstart askan received 27,562 votes compared to Ned Thomson’s 17,676 votes, for a victory margin of 9,886 votes, or 11.1 percent.

“This was a win for Torah,” Avi Schnall expressed repeatedly at his election victory party on Tuesday night. “Lakewood came out as a tzibbur,united behind the call of the gedolim and united for change,” he noted.

“Thank you to every voter in Lakewood, to everyone that said, ‘We are going to make a change,’ to everyone that said, ‘It’s time for things to be different,’ to everyone that said, ‘We need to do more,’ to everyone that said that our voice must be heard,” Avi said in an impassioned victory speech. “Because if not for every person waiting in line for hours tonight, waiting for hours in line on Sunday, finding car pools, figuring out schedules, and taking the time to vote, this would not have been possible,” he continued. “This is your victory!”

Schnall’s victory in the Republican stronghold that is the 30th Legislative District gained some national attention, as politicos with no understanding of Lakewood’s dynamics were left stunned that it had voted to elect a Democrat to the Assembly when just three years prior, it had voted more heavily in favor of then-incumbent president Donald Trump than any other municipality in the 2020 presidential election.

Even more confounding to election experts, Lakewood had not bucked the Republican Party. Despite voting in a Democrat to the Assembly, another incumbent Republican, Sean Kean, was reelected to the Assembly in a landslide (each district has two assemblymen and one senator). Additionally, Senator Bob Singer, who has represented the 30th District since the early 1990s, coasted to a reelection victory, with more than 90 percent of votes cast going for him.

Above all, the results underscored a political and spiritual reality that exists only in Lakewood—an unwavering fealty to da’as Torah.

Rounding Out the Locals

The 30th District’s Assembly race wasn’t the only taking place on Tuesday, though it was the only competitive race in the area. Lakewood mayor Ray Coles easily won reelection, and Deborah Fuentes won her inaugural term on the Lakewood Township Committee, leaving fellow candidates Bruce Stern, Jimmy Esposito, and independent Hershel Hershkowitz far behind in the vote totals.

For the Lakewood Board of Education, Vaad-endorsed candidates Ada Gonzalez, Moshe Raitzik, and Eliyahu Greenwald soared to victory over challengers Yehuda Shain, Avrohom Schubert, Eli Eisenbach, and Yoni Morgenstern.

In another election, Dovid Bender was elected Lakewood fire commissioner with 47.6 percent of the vote, defeating Harrison Pfeffer (36.1 percent) and Aaron Hirsch (15.1 percent).

In Toms River, Councilman Dan Rodrick trounced Ben Giovine in the race for mayor, garnering 69.3 percent of the vote to the Democrat’s 29.9 percent. Notably, the Toms River Jewish Community Council chose not to endorse either candidate in the race, with Rodrick having previously been accused of running anti-Semitic campaigns and Giovine speaking at an overtly anti-Israel mosque last Friday night.

In the 12th Legislative District, of which Jackson is included, Republicans Robert Clifton and Alex Sauickie were reelected to the Assembly with 35.2 percent and 33 percent of the vote respectively, defeating Democrats Paul Sarti and Raya Arbiol. In the Senate race, Republican Owen Henry cruised to victory over Democrat Brandon Rose. Henry is succeeding Senator Sam Thompson (not to be confused with Ned Thomson), who called it quits after becoming entangled in fights with party bosses, who expressed apprehension about his advancing age. Technically, Henry’s win represents a seat flip to Republicans, as Thompson switched to the Democratic Party due to his battles with GOP party bosses. However, most election observers don’t consider it much of a flip at all, considering that Thompson had been elected to the seat as a Republican, not a Democrat.

In Jackson itself, Brian McCarron won a close race against Tara Rivera for a seat on the township’s board of education, and residents overwhelmingly voted “no” (64.2 percent to 35.7 percent) on a ballot question asking whether taxes should be raised to compensate for massive cuts in state aid to the inexorably failing local school district.

In Brick, incumbent Democratic mayor Lisa Crate clinched an overwhelming victory against former Republican assemblyman John Catalano, defeating him by more than 18 percent. Crate’s victory is a blow to Ocean County GOP chairman George Gilmore, who put tremendous resources into boosting Catalano. (If only Brick had some rabbanim for Gilmore to rely on…)

At the County level, Frank Sadeghi, a Republican, triumphed over Roxanne Barnes to secure a seat on the Ocean County Board of Commissioners. The seat Sadeghi will now occupy was open due to the impending retirement of Commissioner Joe Vicari, who announced in February that he would be stepping down when his term ends, after a cumulative 42 years in elected office.

Wins for Democrats Statewide

All in all, Tuesday was a great day for Democrats statewide. New Jersey’s ruling party didn’t lose a single Senate seat and flipped five Assembly seats, strengthening its already powerful grip on the fate of legislation crafted and policy molded in Trenton.

Election Day’s results were particularly dispiriting for Republicans, who had made unexpected gains in 2021 and went into this year with hopes of potentially gaining control of one of the Legislature’s chambers.

Aside from the Schnall win in the 30th Legislative District, Democratic candidates scored major victories in South Jersey, where in the 3rd District former assemblyman John Burzichelli unseated incumbent Republican senator Ed Durr, the truck driver who shocked New Jersey and the nation in 2021 by defeating powerful Senate president Steve Sweeney. And in the 4th District, Assemblyman Paul Moriarty won the Senate seat against Republican Chris Del Borrello, with a 9-point margin of victory.

Another huge victory for Democrats came in the competitive 11th District, where Senator Vin Gopal crushed his Republican challenger, Steve Dnistrian, by more than 20 percentage points to secure another term in office.

With the dust now settled, Democrats will hold a massive 49 to 27 majority in the state Assembly and a continued 25 to 15 majority in the Senate, all but ensuring that they will have complete control of New Jersey politics for the foreseeable future.