MOUNTAIN LAKES – There’s something about being sheriff – even in New Jersey.
While no one would ever confuse the most urbanized state in the nation with the wide-open spaces of the west, the job carries a certain cache. Sheriffs are elected and they tend to be very popular – more so than, say, county commissioners.
You saw that here Monday night when Republican James Gannon, the Morris County sheriff, held his annual St. Patrick’s Day-St. Joseph’s Day event.
As you can see, Gannon is an ecumenical type guy. In fact, he called himself an Irish-Polish kid who grew up in an Italian neighborhood.
About 600 attended, jamming into a banquet hall to dine on Irish (corned beef) and Italian (pasta) delicacies. There was also a pipe band, Irish step dancers and a man singing Sinatra tunes. Ecumenical indeed.
Such events, naturally, attract all sorts of politicians, especially candidates.
Jack Ciattarelli, the Republican candidate for governor in 2021 – and again in 2025 – was there making the rounds. He never seems to miss a party.
As were both state Sen. Joe Pennacchio of LD-26 and the man running against him in the June primary, Tom Mastrangelo. No, they were not together.
Assembly candidate BettyLou DeCroce was there, as was Jay Webber, one of her opponents in LD-26.
Such events are not the time for serious political debate. The goal is simple – be seen and shake hands with as many people as possible.
Paul DeGroot, who is running for county commissioner, was on hand with a petition. After all, you can never get enough signatures.
Gannon’s brief speech was a good one.
The sheriff spoke about locking up bad guys; he had for-profit drug dealers in mind. But he also said it’s necessary to offer help to individuals struggling with addiction.
Gannon is very proud of an initiative called Hope One that began in 2017. Among other things, it is a mobile outreach van that seeks to bring help to those in need. It started in Morris County, but has since expanded to Paterson, Newark and, as the sheriff said Monday night,. maybe soon to New York City.
The sheriff also reminded his audience of a somber note. Suicides in the county are on the rise this year. He asked the crowd to be attentive to those in need.
Still, the main agenda of the night was to party and to have fun.
Sheriffs in Morris have done a lot of this over the years.
Ed Rochford, the man who had the job before Gannon, also held a St. Patrick’s Day bash that attracted hundreds.
The sheriff prior to Rochford, John M. Fox, who old timers will remember as a colorful sort, held an annual male-only event. That was more than 30 years ago.
Times have changed since then.
But one thing that does not seem to change – at least in Morris – is the popularity of the local sheriff.
When Gannon ran for reelection last year, he was unopposed. The Dems didn’t even try.