FRANKLIN LAKES — You might not be able to tell the players without a scorecard in this year's Republican mayor and council primary. In fact, you may need a GPS to navigate.
In a rare show of disunity, borough Republicans have split into two municipal slates: Republicans for Responsible Government in party-line Column 2, and Republicans for Franklin Lakes in alternative party Column 3.
Even more unusual is that four incumbents are divided between the two columns: Column 2 candidates are Councilman Charles Kahwaty, who is running for mayor, and newcomer Joel Ansh, running for council. Column 3 candidate Councilwoman Gail Kelly is running for mayor on a slate with Councilwoman Ann Swist and Councilman Joseph Cadicina, who are seeking new terms.
In another wrinkle, Ardith Cardenas, who is listed as a Column 2 council candidate, has already dropped out of the race, but too late to have her name taken off the ballot. She did not return calls seeking comment on her withdrawal.
"We've never had a split primary or general election during my terms on the council," Cadicina said. "Everyone ran in one column, no challengers. This makes the election process more difficult and more expensive."
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So what's behind the split?
No one wants to speculate on the cause of the split, at least not publicly.
Mayor Frank Bivona surprised residents when he announced he would not seek reelection after 13 years in office, 12 as mayor.
"I retired from work 14 years ago and wanted to give back to the community I love," Bivona said in an April email. "I think I've accomplished that. I am not a politician and have no desire for other office."
Undertaking chairmanship of the Most Blessed Sacrament Church rebuilding committee may have influenced Bivona, a member of the congregation when its sanctuary was destroyed by arson in December 2019.
A slate of three "parents' rights" candidates appeared to signal a political shift when they were elected to the nonpartisan Franklin Lakes school board last November. On the other hand, regional high school trustee Helen Koulikourdis narrowly defeated "take back our schools" candidate Kim Ansh, Joel's wife, in the same election.
The candidates' Facebook pages and campaign materials have espoused "high road" political rhetoric about experience and goals, rather than spotlighting the split or criticizing one another.
"The candidates are unconcerned with their position on the ballot and look forward to taking their case directly to the voters as to why they should represent Franklin Lakes," campaign manager Taylor Peracchio said on behalf of Kelly, Cadicina and Swist. "This election is about one thing and one thing only: who is best suited to provide the experienced leadership and responsible new ideas to meet the demands facing the borough."
Republican - Mayor (four-year term)
Charles Kahwaty, elected to his fourth council term in 2020, served as council president in 2012-13 and 2019-20, and sits on the Planning Board. The Ridgewood attorney is a member of the Bergen County Bar Association and president of the Bergen County Bar Foundation. He is a member and past president of the Franklin Lakes Republican Club and a member of the Lions Club.
Gail Kelly, elected to her first council term in 2020, is employed in the telecommunications industry. She is president of the Newcomers & Neighbors Club and a member of the Recreation Foundation, Lions Club, Republican Club, Woman's Club and Valley Hospital Auxiliary. She has been active in the PTA, Mayor's Wellness Campaign, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, rec sports and library board.
Republican - Council (two three-year terms)
Joel Ansh, seeking his first term on the council. He is the owner of the Fat Boy Cookie Company and Joel's Outrageous Cookies, based in Midland Park. He is a supporter of the Franklin Lakes Education Foundation.
Joseph Cadicina, seeking his fourth council term, previously served as council president. The Morristown attorney is a founding member of Cadicina Law LLC and past president of the Morris County Bar Association and Foundation. Cadicina was one of New Jersey's youngest elected officials when he won a seat on the Garfield Board of Education in 1990 at age 19.
Ann Swist, currently council president, is seeking her fourth term. She is a retired pharmaceutical executive. She is on the Ramapo College Board of Governors and a member of the Franklin Lakes Republican Club and Lions Club. She has served on the Franklin Lakes branch of the Valley Hospital Auxiliary and the Valley Hospital board of trustees.
Democratic - Council
Fernando Saenz previously ran unsuccessfully against Dennis Bonagura for the remainder of his council term last November. He owns an insurance agency specializing in supplemental retirement plans and specially designed insurance contracts. He has volunteered for activities involving his children in Franklin Lakes schools.
The primary is June 7.
Marsha Stoltz is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Franklin Lakes NJ: Election features split primary in GOP