September 26, 2023: This story has been updated with a statement from Maplewood Mayor Dean Dafis.
Following on the lead of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, elected officials in South Orange and Maplewood are loudly voicing their opinion that U.S. Senator Bob Menendez should resign his office immediately.
“Robert Menendez has failed the people of New Jersey and needs to immediately resign from the US Senate. He is ethically challenged and enough is enough with his behavior,” wrote former Maplewood Mayor and current Township Committee member Victor De Luca in a statement that he shared with media on September 25.
De Luca was referring to the fact that, on Friday, Sept. 22, Menendez and his wife Nadine Arslanian Menendez were indicted on corruption charges, accused of accepting “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in bribes in exchange for the senator’s influence, according to the now unsealed federal indictment.
“Sadly, Menendez is in the same class as Representative George Santos and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas,” wrote De Luca. “Each has put his self enrichment ahead of the interests of the people. With a 51-49 Senate, we Democrats cannot risk losing a seat in 2024 and need strong representation now to fight the radical right in Washington. Robert Menendez will have his day in court and should focus on preparing a rigorous defense. At the same time, New Jersey needs a full time Senator who will work for us. Menendez should do the right thing and resign.”
Menendez has represented New Jersey in the U.S. Senate since 2006. He was previously federally indicted on conspiracy, bribery and fraud charges in 2015 but was acquitted in a mistrial in 2017.
De Luca was joined in his calls for Menendez’s resignation by other South Orange and Maplewood leaders.
South Orange Village President Sheena Collum shared that a resolution calling for Menendez’s resignation would be voted upon by the South Orange Board of Trustees at their September 26 meeting (see below).
The resolution calls for Menendez’s resignation and states that the “nature, specificity and scope” of the charges “implicate national security and raise serious concerns about Senator Menendez’s ability to effectively represent the interests of our municipality and the state.”
On her Facebook page, Collum wrote that the time to “hold your nose and push the button for” Menendez was over. “The political posturing and staged ‘happy to stand next to someone important’ is ludicrous and harmful. The oath we take is to the people… not a party and certainly not a person. Menendez needs to resign.”
Maplewood Mayor Dean Dafis echoed Collum’s remarks and said that Maplewood would vote on a similar resolution at its next Township Committee meeting on October 3.
Update: On September 26, Dafis sent the following statement to Village Green:
Presumed innocent, though severely compromised, US Senator Menendez must step down immediately in the best interest of the country and NJ. We’re no longer confident in his ability to represent us, to safeguard our country, to inspire and engage voters, or to lead the Democratic agenda at a critical time in our divided country when democracy itself is under attack. Even for Latinos, he is a distraction to necessary progress in immigration reform, economic mobility, affirmation, and inclusion.
As public officials our currency is trust – Robert Menendez is no longer trustworthy. As Democrats, we represent the people not our own self-interest – Robert Menendez has put himself before the people. As Washington continues to erode by gridlock and corruption, NJ needs uncompromised, steadfast, and undistracted representation.
I’m proud of my colleagues all across NJ unified in their call for a resignation – as Democrats we don’t put party loyalty over ethics. Robert Menendez, please do the right thing; step down now.
Although Menendez remained defiant during public remarks on Monday, the defection of Maplewood and South Orange officials is bad news for the embattled senator. The towns, which regularly vote 90% for Democratic candidates in national elections, have emerged as a Democratic stronghold in recent years. Combined with Millburn, SOMA churns out nearly equal voter turnout to Newark. And the towns were recently redistricted into the 11th Congressional district, making Congressperson Mikie Sherrill’s seat safe.