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Nasty Fight in Edison, NJ

The mayoral race in Edison, New Jersey has turned very ugly as a Democrat and an Independent candidate take swings at each other in advance of next week’s vote.

From The Home News Tribune:

The hottest political race in Middlesex County pits an upstart on a meteoric rise against a seasoned veteran making a final run for the township’s top office.

“I don’t think you’ll ever see me run for office again,” said William Stephens, a Democrat and former councilman running as an independent against Jun Choi.

Choi, a first-time candidate for office, shocked Democratic powers and became a statewide political commodity when he drubbed three-term Mayor George Spadoro in the Democratic primary.

Both candidates are armed with insults to attack each other and money to disseminate their messages. The race started receiving media attention days after the June primary ended, and the coverage by two daily newspapers and a weekly has not stopped.

“We really shouldn’t be surprised that this campaign has taken on a dominance,” said Ingrid Reed director of the New Jersey Project at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics. “This is not a little suburb.”

But negative campaigning galvanizes the politically connected, while driving less-interested voters away from the polls, Reed said.

Both candidates said their poll numbers have been positive.

Stephens said his polling of undeclared voters who have already made a choice in the race has him leading by at least 4-to-1. He also said 60 percent of undeclared voters have yet to decide.

“The voters of Edison in June clearly wanted positive changes. More than two-thirds of residents here in Edison believe I am the positive change,” Choi said based on his polling numbers.

Stephens’ supporters, including his campaign manager, Anthony Russomanno, worked with Choi during the primary to help oust Spadoro. In the spring, Choi and Stephens said they agreed on 90 percent of the issues.

They have both said they want to have an open government, stabilize taxes, curtail development and ease traffic. But they have worked to distance themselves from each other.

“We sound a lot alike because he’s copied everything I’ve been saying for the last eight to 10 years,” Stephens said.

Choi has called Stephens a “flip-flopper” for fighting developments, but accepting campaign donations from developers. The 34-year-old Korean American said Stephens’ 25-plus years in the Democratic Party ties him to political machinery detrimental to Edison’s growth.

Stephens said Choi’s choice to run with a slate of Democratic Township Council incumbents ties the newcomer to the same machine.

“It’s an opportunist against an experienced, civic-minded activist,” said Stephens, who lost to Spadoro in the the 2001 Democratic primary by 862 votes.

“Jun has come shopping for an office and settled for this one,” Stephens said, referencing Choi’s raising $140,000 for a potential bid for state Assembly in the 18th Legislative District, where Democrats hold both seats.

Choi touts himself as a reformer, having already initiated a campaign-finance reform measure, which after reworking was adopted into law by the council.

“What has he (Stephens) done for the community?” Choi asked. “He had his chance with seven years on the council.”

Stephens responded by pointing to his development-fighting record and his proposal of a local law that has stopped officials, such as the municipal judge, prosecutor and public defender, from double-dipping by using Edison’s health benefits.

“You see, Jun wasn’t here and he just makes things up,” Stephens said.

Both candidates do agree on one other thing: whoever takes office will have a lot of work ahead of them.

“We’re inheriting a nightmare,” Stephens said.

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