WASHINGTON TWP. The township council president and his running mate can compete in the June Republican primary despite a suit arguing that they should be removed from the ballot, a judge ruled Thursday.

Superior Court Judge Christine M. Allen-Jackson affirmed the petition of Council President Giancarlo D'Orazio and Robert Maloney, according to those involved in the matter.

The two are running against candidates endorsed by the township Republican Executive Committee - Nicholas Fazzio, Joseph Micucci, and Christine Bailey, all newcomers. Three of the council's five seats are on the ballot.

The committee-backed slate filed the suit Monday seeking to disqualify the signatures of unaffiliated voters on D'Orazio and Maloney's petition, saying primary petitions may be signed only by voters affiliated with the party.

The suit challenged a decision by the township clerk, Jill McCrea, that under state law unaffiliated voters were permitted to sign the document because they were legally qualified to vote for such candidates.

The committee-backed candidates' attorney, Stephen Altamuro, said Thursday that the argument was rendered moot after the D'Orazio-Maloney petition produced in court showed nearly 80 signatures, more than enough to validate it even if the unaffiliated signers were disqualified.

Altamuro said the suit was filed after the GOP committee received an earlier copy of the petition showing fewer than 60 signatures, meaning discarding the contested signatures would have left D'Orazio and Maloney without the required 50 signatures.

D'Orazio, who has clashed with his two fellow Republicans on the governing body, whose seats are also up, is the only incumbent seeking reelection. He said: "It's relieving that this thing is over, finally. Now we can move forward."

"We need to look 20 years ahead, not 20 years behind," he said.

Altamuro, who was not present for the judge's ruling, said the case left certain questions unanswered - including whether unaffiliated voters could sign a petition. He said the General Assembly should review the issue.

"I think they have to redefine who exactly can sign a petition," he said.

- Angelo Fichera