EAST ORANGE — A political newcomer backed by the Essex County Democratic machine has declared victory over longtime East Orange Mayor Robert Bowser in tonight's Democratic primary. Lester Taylor claimed he toppled Bowser, the 77-year-old veteran politician whose bid for a fifth term unraveled during a bruising months-long campaign.
Taylor was Bowser's main rival in a field of four challengers.
According to partial unofficial election results from the Essex County Clerk's Office, Taylor beat the four-term incumbent by a wide margin. However, Bowser said he has not conceded.
"Whenever you play ball, you always declare victory," Bowser said when reached by phone as he gathered with supporters at Bogies restaurant.
Taylor said East Orange voters have marked a new chapter. Taylor received 3,037 votes to Bowser's 1,982 votes, with roughly 85 percent of the city's precincts reporting shortly before midnight, according to the county clerk.
"I feel great, that's the only way I can say it," Taylor, a 39-year-old attorney at the politically connected firm Florio, Perrucci, Steinhardt and Fader, said tonight while surrounded by hundreds of supporters at his campaign headquarters.
As mayor-elect, he said he will focus next on assembling a transition team to tackle issues including job creation, redevelopment, education and recreation in order "to hit the ground running" once he takes office in January.
"The city of East Orange was ready for change. We had a professional, issue-oriented campaign,” said Taylor, who declined to say if he will continue to work full-time at the law firm after he takes the full-time mayor's job. "I'm so honored, privileged, happy and proud."
A native of Long Branch, Taylor moved to East Orange about seven years ago and received crucial support from the party establishment for his campaign.
Bowser refused to give up saying, "We haven’t really seen numbers and totals ... we have no official count.”
He and his wife, Marilyn, spent the day visiting polling sites around the city.
The partial results also show that the City Council candidates who ran on Taylor's slate — Chris James in Ward 1, Romal Bullock in Ward 2, Councilman Ted Green in Ward 3, Tyshammie Cooper in Ward 4 and Councilwoman Alicia Holman in Ward 5 — won their party's nomination in the primary.
In heavily Democratic East Orange, winning the primary all but guarantees victory in November.