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Two Princeton Attorneys Want to Force Immediate Special Gubernatorial Election

Matthew Hersh

Two Princeton attorneys are calling for Gov. James McGreevey's resignation to be effective immediately, in order to set the stage for a special election that would halt the handing over of executive power to State Senate President Richard Codey (D-West Orange).

The attorneys, Bruce Afran and Carl Mayer, have filed a suit with Judge Garrett Brown in federal court to effectively force a special election. They contend that Gov. McGreevey's announcement 13 days ago stating his intention to resign effective November 15 should be strictly interpreted so that a special election could be held, allowing political parties to put forth chosen candidates.

Amid swirling controversy about illegal fundraising, Gov. McGreevey announced that he would resign after admitting to having extramarital relations with another man. While the governor has not revealed any names, the man at the center of the controversy is Golan Cipel, a onetime state homeland security advisor.

Mr. Afran, a Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2000, argued that Gov. McGreevey's August 12 announcement stating his intention to step down on November 15, itself "triggers a vacancy" and should subsequently spark a special election.

"Does he have to leave office now in the event of a special election? He doesn't," Mr. Afran said. "As long as he has announced his resignation before September 3 as a final act, it triggers a vacancy, and that's an important point."

Under state law, if the governor were to step down before September 3, or 60 days before the November election, it would force a special election.

Mr. Afran pointed to "at least" five states that have undergone similar scenarios.

"It's a widespread legal conclusion that if you resign effective several months later, so long as your resignation is certain and final, it triggers a special election," he said.

Mr. Afran cited as an example the late former Illinois U.S. Senator Paul Simon's decision to leave his post as state senator to take a position as lieutenant governor. A special election was subsequently scheduled upon receipt of the resignation, which was effective two months after the submission.

He also pointed to the 2002 withdrawal of then Senator Robert Torricelli who dropped his re-election bid two months prior to the election. The State Supreme Court, in that case, allowed Frank Lautenberg to take his place on the Democratic ticket.

In last Sunday's New York Times op-ed piece, Gov. McGreevey maintained that he will not voluntarily step aside, even amid calls to do so, citing "immediate public policy considerations and actions" that await completion.

He added that in resigning he did not intend to "abandon midstream important initiatives."

The governor also cited responsibilities regarding security during the Republican National Convention, set to begin this coming Monday, as a reason to maintain "the continuity of leadership."

Mr. Mayer, a former Independent member of Township Committee and perennial congressional candidate, disagreed with the governor's assertions.

"The essence of our lawsuit is that as soon as McGreevey had his press conference, that created a vacancy in the office and under the [state] constitution, that vacancy ought to be filled by a special election on September 2.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman (D-Trenton), the chair of the New Jersey Democratic Committee, was unavailable for comment at press time. Since Gov. McGreevey proffered his intention to resign, State Senator Shirley Turner (D-Pennington) and Assemblyman Bill Baroni (R-Hamilton) have called for the creation of a lieutenant governor position in New Jersey, citing the confusion attending a governor's resignation. If Senate President Codey does succeed Gov. McGreevey as acting governor, he will serve as both senate president and governor until January 2006, when Gov. McGreevey's term would have expired.

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