Heated fire election resolved by judge

Walker is declared

winner nearly 13 months

after initial vote


Staff Writer

The battle for a District 2 fire commissioner’s seat in Old Bridge, which has dragged on for more than a year, ended March 7 when a Superior Court judge deemed six absentee ballots invalid, making Eleanor Walker the winner.

“I was very happy because going in I knew we were right,” Walker said. “I just want to see … harmony in the fire company again. I’m happy it’s over now.”

District voters were subpoenaed by Walker’s camp to verify the validity of their absentee ballots. Judge Jamie Happas ruled the six votes be thrown out because of issues with the chain of custody of the absentee ballots.

The final result after the ruling saw Walker with 441 votes, and Kevin Kingston with 437.

“I’m just relieved it’s over,” Kingston said. “Enough is enough at this point.”

Kingston could have challenged the ruling, but instead decided to put an end to the

13-monthlong fight for the commissioner’s post because he did not want to inconvenience any more voters from either side.

“I wasn’t willing to do that at the beginning, and I wasn’t willing to do that now,” Kingston said. “I have a big problem with doing that. I thought it was better that I back out, then run again in February.”

The process started back in February 2006, when the original election resulted in a tie after an absentee vote for Walker was counted. A run-off election held in June declared Walker victorious by one vote. A recount produced the same numbers.

After Kingston brought a complaint before the courts questioning more than a dozen absentee ballots that were not counted, the ballots were opened, and he was declared the winner by two votes. The votes were originally discounted because Board of Election officials said the voters did not register in person.

Later, board officials said the individuals did register in person, causing the ballots to be opened and counted. Walker however, said she saw postmarks on the envelopes, indicating that the voters could not have registered in person. Happas did not rule on the matter, though the voters in question testified that they did not register in person.

In late November, Walker had absentee voters subpoenaed to question whether their ballots were truly legitimate. According to her attorney, Kevin Main, there were questions regarding the chain of custody, registration process and whether voters were assisted in filling out their ballots.

Walker refused a settlement offer made by Kingston’s lawyer, John Pilles, in December. The deal proposed that Kingston would take the seat that was up for grabs in the election, and then-board President Robert Weiss would have left his seat early so that Walker could fill it until February, when she could run again with Kingston’s support.

The longstanding saga has been colored by bitter accusations. Throughout the race, Walker has been backed by the volunteer firefighters in the district. Her husband, Bruce, is the assistant chief in the fire district.

Kingston is a career firefighter in East Orange. Weiss, as well as newly elected Commissioner Linda Seiler, have both acknowledged issues between the volunteer and career firefighters that need to be resolved.

“The complexion of that board of fire directors has changed drastically,” Kingston said. “I’m going to monitor the situation over the next few months and see how it goes. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of animosity that I encountered.”