Borough Faces Significant Challenges As Democrats Notch Local Victories and Sweep County Races

Highland Park Democratic and Board of Education candidates easily won reelection Tuesday, facing no ballot competition but under the cloud of ongoing challenges facing the borough.

With all votes counted, including mail-in ballots and provisional ballots, Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler, Council President Phil George, and Councilman Matt Hale cruised to reelection, while facing a last-minute write-in campaign by Borough resident Ira Rosen.

The County Board of Election has not reported on write-in votes, as several other residents were also written in on the ballot for various offices.

“Thank you Highland Park for re-electing me as mayor,” Mayor Brill Mittler wrote on Facebook. “I am humbled by your confidence in me. Congratulations to Phil George and Matt Hale, two great running mates! Now, the work continues.”

This is Ms. Brill Mittler’s second term as mayor. She was appointed to the seat in 2014 when then-Mayor Gary Minkoff resigned for professional reasons.

While no Republicans ran for mayor or for either council seat, the election comes at a difficult time for the Borough, as the community continues to grapple with and move forward on equitable police policies and practices, particularly as a new report re-affirms that the Highland Park Police Department has disproportionately pulled over black drivers.

The Highland Park Police Department’s most recent open public meeting featured the report’s author, Dr. De Lacey Davis, as he presented the findings to the community, The meeting, however, showcased the unfinished and potentially very long-term business of building in equity into the police department.

Then, there is the ongoing issue of anti-semitism in the Borough. Following several local incidents and the mass shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and at the Chabad of Poway Temple near San Diego, Mayor Brill Mittler asked the Council to craft a resolution that would address anti-semitism in Highland Park. An element of the resolution focused on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. This resulted in a deep division within the town, particularly within the town’s Jewish population.

Following a particularly contentious council meeting on October 29, when the mayor cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of tabling the resolution because of concerns with the BDS language. In response to that action, Mr. Rosen began encouraging residents to vote for him for all of the available offices on the ballot, with the exception of Mr. Hale. Council member Hale was the main sponsor of the anti-semitism resolution and, ironically, on the slate with Ms. Brill Mittler and Mr. George, who also opposed the resolution in its current form.

The Borough’s own Equity Commission also voiced opposition for the resolution in its current form.

Mr. Rosen, a registered Democrat, did not pose a particular challenge, however. Early, unofficial tallies showed Mr. Rosen gathering 45 votes for mayor and 80 votes for council out of roughly 2,000 votes cast. But it did underscore a division in this overwhelmingly Democratic town.

Mayor Brill Mittler announced last week that the resolution would not be on the November 12 Council agenda as originally planned.

“[P]roposed language for an anti-Semitism resolution clearly revealed how divided the community, and the Council, are on this matter. After many more conversations with community leaders and concerned residents this past week, I see that we need to take a breather. We must take more time, as a community, to arrive at a better understanding of the underlying issues and to determine the best way to both make all our residents feel safe while also fully preserving everyone’s rights to express themselves on important issues,” she said in a statement on the Borough’s Facebook page.

The race for the Board of Education was also uncontested, with Board of Education President Darcie Cimarusti, and school board members Mark Krieger and Chris Woodward easily winning reelection with no challengers.

At the top of the ballot were Assembly members Robert Karabinchak and Nancy Pinkin, both Democrats, who were reelected against two Republican challengers. Freeholders Kenneth Armwood, Charles Kenny were reelected along with newcomer Clary Azcona-Barber. All three Democrats easily fended off three Republicans and one Independent.

Visit the Middlesex County Board of Election’s website for more election results.

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