Sunday, July 01, 2007

Elections - Courier - 2005 Race could be most costly ever

Published in the Courier News, Thursday, November 10, 2005

Dust in Plainfield settling
Race for mayor could end up being the most costly in the city's history.

Staff Writer

PLAINFIELD -- A day after Sharon Robinson-Briggs won the city's highest elected office and said she would work to heal the political split in Plainfield, a final election tally still was unavailable.

However, one thing that did seem clear in this year's mayoral contests -- the primary and general election campaigns combined -- probably will end up being the most expensive in the Queen City's history, costing at least $320,000.

The Union County and Plainfield clerks' offices said Wednesday that write-in votes, most of which likely will go to incumbent Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, still were being counted.

Robinson-Briggs, a Democrat, received 4,336 votes, and Independent Robert Ferraro picked up 1,118 of the unofficial total 8,787 cast. That would leave McWilliams with a maximum 3,333 votes, assuming all remaining voters chose him -- though that probably was not the case.

McWilliams said he estimated he had received about 2,300 votes.

Robinson-Briggs was not immediately available for comment, but McWilliams added Wednesday he thought he had been beaten by money.

"Clearly it was mainly outside influences that bankrolled the Robinson-Briggs campaign, and that's been clear from the beginning. And I guess that's New Jersey politics," he said.

However, Assemblyman Jerry Green, Robinson-Briggs' campaign manager, said the mayor's loss was a result of discontent.

"He has to accept the responsibility that the city and the people in the city do not think the city was moving in the right direction," Green said.

McWilliams, 52, is a former Democrat and two-term incumbent who lost his re-election bid in the June primary to Robinson-Briggs.

He later switched his political affiliation to become a Republican and fill a vacancy on the ticket when a previous GOP candidate stepped down. However, the state Supreme Court refused his attempt to appear on the ballot as a Republican, upholding a law that says candidates cannot run for one party's nomination in the primary, then switch parties and run for the same office in the general election.

McWilliams ran as a write-in candidate for mayor in Tuesday's election.

Robinson-Briggs, 46, is a school board member who, with her win, becomes Plainfield's first woman mayor.

According to documents filed with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission, Robinson-Briggs' campaign had raised $201,225 through the end of June for primary spending. McWilliams had collected $77,250 in the same period.

The $201,225 was more than the three Union County Democratic freeholder candidates collectively had raised through Oct. 28 -- for the general election -- through their political committee, Union County Victory 2005.

However, the spending frenzy fell off in Plainfield after the primary.

As of 11 days before the general election, McWilliams had raised even more than Robinson-Briggs, claiming just $25,590, compared to her $23,828.

By contrast, in the last mayoral race in 2001 -- the only other year for which figures are available on the Election Law Enforcement Commission's Web site -- the two mayoral candidates combined raised only about one-fifth of the total spent this year: $64,561.

McWilliams was a Democrat then, and out-spent Ferraro, who was then a Republican, by about 4-to-1.

Even the more than $300,000 spent this year by both campaigns is deceptive, McWilliams said, because it does not include outside money spent in Plainfield supporting the entire regular Democratic slate.

"We estimate that they spent from the primary alone something approaching half a million dollars," he said.

Still, Green said Democrats spent relatively little money in the run-up to the general election. After bouncing McWilliams from the party's slate in June, more expensive advertising methods were abandoned, he added.

"There was no reason to get into spending money with a TV campaign," he said.

Final campaign funding reports must be filed with the state in about three weeks.

Chad Weihrauch can be reached at (908) 707-3137 or

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.