By KATHY CHANG
TRENTON — The swearing-in of state Sen. Peter Barnes III (D-Middlesex) to the state Superior Court on Monday will essentially create a domino effect in the Assembly’s 18th Legislative District.
Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) has been the only one to declare an interest in Barnes’ senate seat, according to his office.
The Middlesex County Democratic Party has up to 30 days to fill Barnes’ seat.
Four Democrats have already expressed interest in Diegnan’s Assembly seat, should he be appointed to the Senate, including three Edison Township Council members — Robert Diehl, Robert Karabinchak and Sapana Shah — as well as Elsie Foster-Dublin, a longtime Highland Park councilwoman.
Karabinchak has served on the Edison Council for eight years and has owned a general contracting business for more than 30 years.
“I believe I will be a positive voice for the people of Middlesex County and the state as an assemblyman,” he said.
The councilman said if selected to fill Diegnan’s seat, he would like to continue his efforts on statewide property tax reform.
“I testified at a state budget hearing a few years ago discussing different types of tax reforms,” said Karabinchak.
He added that he appeared and testified before a Senate committee hearing on regulating tax appeals.
“We need to change these formulas, and the tax appeal process needs to change to prevent it from shifting a greater financial burden onto homeowners,” said Karabinchak.
The longtime councilman has garnered endorsements from Edison Mayor Thomas Lankey, Middlesex County Freeholder Charles Tomaro and the other four Edison council members, Michael R. Lombardi, Alvaro Gomez, Ajay Patil and Leonard D. Sendelsky.
Shah has been an Edison councilwoman since 2014 and served previously on the Edison Board of Education. She is a civil and criminal litigator who also serves as an assistant corporation counsel in Jersey City. She is past-president of the Asian Pacific American Lawyers Association.
Shah said she pledges to be “an outspoken, faithful advocate” for the people and families who live and work in the 18th District.
“I am seeking this Assembly seat because I want to do more to protect and improve the quality of life for people and families in Middlesex County and across the state,” she said.
Shah said she has demonstrated as an Edison council member that she is not afraid to speak out for what is right especially on issues of government spending and public safety even when doing the right thing is not popular.
“I am unashamed to stand up for my beliefs,” she said. “One of my closely held beliefs is that my duty is to be an outspoken, faithful advocate for the people who trusted me enough to elect me. I would not betray their trust or compromise my values.”
Diehl has served on the Edison Township Council since 2001. He is a principal of an elementary school in South Plainfield.
“There is a lot to do in the state of New Jersey,” he said “I believe I will be able to take a fresh approach to tackle these difficult tasks including the issue of taxes, the problem with school funding, which is near and dear to my heart, the issue with the transportation trust fund … these are large problems.”
Diehl said with his 19 years of experience in public office, including a stint on the North Plainfield Board of Education and 15 years on the Edison Township Council serving under four different mayors, he is confident that he has the energy and experience to be effective as an assemblyman.
Elsie Foster-Dublin has served on the Highland Park Borough Council since 2000. She is a business owner.
“I know what the needs and challenges are for our public [in Highland Park], professional, and private spheres, and I am ready to serve the best interests of our constituents with the same focus and dedication I have applied throughout my career as a public servant,” she said.
Foster-Dublin said as a councilwoman she worked with the local business improvement nonprofit organization and the state to effectively implement revitalization programs that promote and create economic opportunities; collaborated on community-based projects to improve quality of life for residents and to bring in thousands of grant dollars to fund efforts related to cost-saving energy initiatives and sustainable design; and has worked to secure grants to offset costs of a new public safety complex, a senior citizen jitney and a new hook and ladder truck.
The councilwoman said if selected for the Assembly seat, she would like to focus on tax stabilization, fiscal responsibility, investment in communitie and smart growth and sustainable development.
The 18th Legislative District is made up of East Brunswick Township, Edison Township, Helmetta Borough, Highland Park Borough, Metuchen Borough, South Plainfield Borough and South River Borough.