Democrats elect new municipal chairman

The Rahway Democratic Municipal Committee elected a new chairman on Monday night with Kevin O’Brien succeeding Mayor Samson Steinman as leader of the city’s majority party.

Steinman served as chairman of the city’s Democratic Municipal Committee for several years, succeeding Rick Proctor, who was chairman during much of former Mayor James Kennedy’s tenure. Democrats have held all nine seats on City Council and the mayor’s office for a number of years. Republicans last held a ward seat on the governing body more than a decade ago and last year did not run candidates for any of the six ward seats up for election.

Among 48 members of the Democratic Committee, 32 voted unanimously to appoint O’Brien and a slate of officers during the committee’s annual meeting on Monday at the Rahway Yacht Club, according to Assemblyman and former Mayor James Kennedy.

It was in the mayor’s best interests and the party’s best interest, Kennedy said, adding that he’s always recognized the value of the mayor not being head of the committee. and under the circumstances, it makes sense for the party to collectively work, alluding to Steinman’s medical leave earlier this year after his second motor vehicle crash in seven months.

“The party is still behind him [Steinman],” he said, when asked whether Steinman is in any jeopardy of losing the party line in next year’s mayoral election.

“The mission of the party is to support the principles of democracy by supporting Democratic candidates.  The November 2018 election is 18 months away.  No one in the party has discussed that election – we have been quite busy preparing a slate of committee people, distributing petitions, and getting out the vote in the primary election; as well as preparing for and conducting our reorganization meeting this past Monday,” O’Brien said in an email on Wednesday.

The next mayoral election is November 2018 but candidates in the June primary must file by March. Independent candidates have until the day after the primary.

Steinman is completing his first full, four-year term as mayor after being elevated from City Council president following the resignation of Mayor Rick Proctor in 2013. Kennedy did not seek re-election in 2010.

O’Brien took over Steinman’s seat on the city committee during his medical leave earlier this year, and then was was elected to committee in the 4th District of the 6th Ward in last week’s primary as was Kennedy. Steinman no longer held a seat on the city committee, precluding him from being elected chairman. The nominating committee felt that the next chairman should come from the party’s executive committee, Kennedy said.

Asked about the perception of an assemblyman and a former mayor still involved in decision-making by the ruling party and by extension the governing body, Kennedy said: “I’ll always be part of Rahway…You’re never going to take the Rahway out of Jim Kennedy. I sit on the City Committee, I’m one of many, decisions made there have been made across the board, it’s not just one person dominating , saying this is the way it is,” he said in a telephone interview Tuesday night.

As for chatter that he will return to run for mayor next year, Kennedy said the party is “very much in sync, wholeheartedly supporting the mayor and looking to work with him for his re-election if he chooses to run. It’s not even worth mentioning that I don’t have ambitions to be mayor.”

President of Shamrock Enterprises, a land use planning and transportation consulting firm, O’Brien was a member of the 1996 Master Plan Committee and a former member of the Redevelopment Agency as well as former vice chairman of the now-defunct Rahway Center Partnership. He currently serves as planner to the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment.