Judge: Housing Official Can't Seek NJ Assembly Seat

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    The executive director of the Hoboken Housing Authority cannot seek the Democratic nomination for a state Assembly seat because he leads an agency that receives federal funds, a state judge has ruled.

    The candidate, Carmelo Garcia, told The Star-Ledger that he will appeal the ruling by Hudson County Assignment Judge Peter Bariso. Garcia claims the state regulation cited by the judge was preempted by the federal Hatch Act, which would allow him to run.
    "I have been a public servant of the people and look forward to having them choose who they want to represent them in our state legislature," Garcia said in a statement issued through his attorney.
    The ruling Bariso issued Friday stemmed from a lawsuit filed by five Hoboken residents. They claimed Garcia could not seek the Democratic nomination for a 33rd Legislative District because the housing authority he leads receives $10 million a year from the federal government.
    "The plaintiffs are grateful that Judge Bariso's thorough decision, which includes a 7-page opinion on the issue of Garcia's eligibility and a separate 6-page statement on the issue of replacing him as a candidate, has settled the issue once and for all," the plaintiffs' attorney, Flavio Komuves, told the newspaper.
    Garcia argued that the state regulation was preempted by the federal Hatch Act, which would allow him to run. He claimed the federal law was "modernized" last year to be more permissive, while the state law was "antiquated."
    Bariso disagreed, writing in his decision that "courts long have recognized that federal laws often establish a minimum standard that states may exceed with their own, more stringent, regulation."
    Bariso also denied a bid by the Hudson County Democratic Organization to select a new candidate to run in Garcia's place, saying party officials and Garcia both knew his housing authority post could affect his eligibility.
    "Having done so knowing and at their peril, they cannot be heard to complain now," the judge wrote.

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