Menendez opponent backs down: After filing petition, then facing allegations, Gatria pulls out of race for
t started as a very novel and unexpected approach, when a 25-year-old Guttenberg college student announced that she running against incumbent Congressman Robert Menendez for the Democratic nomination in the June primary for the 13th District. Union City's Menendez has held the congressional seat for the last decade.It started as a very novel and unexpected approach, when a 25-year-old Guttenberg college student announced that she running against incumbent Congressman Robert Menendez for the Democratic nomination in the June primary for the 13th District. Union City's Menendez has held the congressional seat for the last decade. However, Esther Gatria's filing to run only kicked off a whirlwind of accusations and controversy, that eventually ended with the student giving up the fight. Menendez once again will have no opposition in the June 6 primary. Last week, Gatria, a Rutgers student, announced that she had filed a petition with the Hudson County Clerk's office in order to appear on the ballot for the Democratic primary. The announcement caught local political officials off guard, because it was believed that Menendez would receive the nomination without opposition. But last Monday, Menendez launched a counter attack to get his instant opponent off the ballot. The four-term Congressman claimed that Gatria, once a registered Republican, had collected petition signatures while living outside the 13th Congressional District and while as a registered Republican. Both procedures are against the law. Apparently, Gatria's husband, Mario Gonzalez, who ran for Hudson County Sheriff as the Republican candidate last year, was the one who was circulating the petition and collecting the signatures. According to Menendez sources, many people believed that they were signing the petition in support of the Congressman, not in opposition. Gatria and Gonzalez both submitted applications last week to the Hudson County Clerk's office in an effort to change their political affiliation from Republican to Democrat. Because of the circumstances, Menendez officially challenged Gatria's petition to the U.S. District Attorney's Office in Newark. A press conference was held on Monday to announce Menendez's plan to challenge Gatria's appearance on the ballot. Two days later, all parties involved appeared at a hearing in front of a state administrative law judge to determine the legitimacy of Gatria's petition. There were several prospective witnesses on hand that were ready to testify about the petition process on behalf of Menendez. However, just as the hearing was about to begin, Gatria announced that she was dropping out of the primary race. 'Personal reasons'
"I'm dropping out of the race for personal reasons," Gatria said, insisting that neither Menendez's appeal nor the validity of the process had anything to do with the decision. She appeared at the hearing with her attorney, Dennis McAlevy of Union City, who then went into a closed door meeting with election officials, Menendez's attorney Robert Levy and Menendez campaign manager Kay LiCausi. Menendez, who finally faces no opposition in the primary as he seeks his fifth term in Congress, said that Gatria finally came to her senses. "It is obvious that Ms. Gatria understood that she could have not sustained the scrutiny of the hearing, the witnesses and evidence that we gathered in support of our case," Menendez said. The popular congressman, rumored in some circles as a possible vice-presidential candidate for Al Gore in the fall, said that Gatria's attempt at opposition had nothing to do with filing the complaint to the state. "I take the electoral process very seriously," Menendez said. "Asking people for their support goes to the very core of a participatory democracy. There is no place for deception in the relationship between a candidate and the voters. We are happy that this did not have to be litigated. However, we were prepared to have our day in court to defend the integrity of the nominating process and to stand up for the Democratic Party." Menendez added, "Now it is time to get back to working on the issues which people care about. I look forward to continuing to make our schools better and expanding educational opportunities, fighting gun violence, working to strengthen and preserve Social Security and protecting jobs." Although Menendez no longer has opposition for the Democratic nomination, he will face opposition in the general election from Republican candidates Harold "Hal" Turner of North Bergen, Theresa DeLeon of Jersey City and Carlos Munoz of West New York.