Chip Robinson’s Countywide Key for Democrats in Morris County

Chip Robinson, the chair of the Morris County Democratic Committee, had an interesting way of sizing up why he thinks Dems have a chance this year against Republican Sheriff James Gannon.

Number one, most people don’t know who Gannon is.

And number two, most people aren’t going to vote.

So, the key is for Democrats to concentrate on informing loyal Democrats what’s going on and getting them to the polls. Or in other words, when a low turnout election looms, the party that can do the best job energizing its voters can win. The challenge is that while Democrats have been chipping away at the registration gap in the county, Republicans still hold a 30,000-voter advantage.

What’s also interesting – and even a bit provocative – is Robinson’s contention that most people don’t know who Gannon is. This conflicts with the accepted  notion that Gannon, a first-term sheriff, is one of the county’s most popular politicians. In fact, some in the party thought Gannon would have been a good GOP challenger next year to Democratic Rep. Mikie Sherrill in the 11th District. The sheriff said that wasn’t for him, but the circulation of his name as a possible candidate is instructive.

Or is it?

Reality is that average folk generally have very little knowledge as to who their county officials are. That happens in an era when most media attention –  think cable TV news shows – is focused on national issues. Then there’s the changing nature of local newspapers, which due to massive staff cuts, no longer cover county government and issues the way they did just 10 years ago.

Sure, the political class and those with a vested interest in county life know who the sheriff and freeholders are, but in a county with a population of about 500,000, that’s not a lot of people.

Robinson made his comments to a chilled crowd Tuesday evening as Democrat William Schievella officially launched his candidacy for sheriff.  Schievella spoke from a gazebo near a lake in Rockaway Township. It made sense on paper, but on this night, the weather was cold and windy.

There was symbolism here. Schievella said that when he kicked off his successful campaign years ago for township council, that very gazebo was the launch site. Back then, Schievella was a Republican. More about that later.

As about 50 or so people milled around, one Democrat confessed to Robinson in a side conversation,

“Jim’s a tough out.”  That would be Gannon.

Robinson countered that Schievella’s law enforcement credentials can not be ignored. Schievella started as a corrections officer and later served in executive positions with the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office (chief of investigations) and county sheriff’s office (undersheriff). He also was on the executive team of former Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino.

In the absence of corruption or some type of scandal, issues in a race like this are tough to come by.

Schievella said it’s about safety. saying he wanted more focus on opioid addiction and keeping schools safe. These are hardly unique concerns. Gannon, in fact, created a program precisely two years ago – Hope One – to combat addiction.

Schievella said he wants to make better use of retired officers to bolster school safety. He conceded that the county is a safe place, but that an incident involving one child would be too many.

It was Robinson who mentioned Schievella’s Republican past, He put a positive spin on it, saying this would allow the candidate to work with all sides if elected.

One of those on hand for the kickoff was Rockaway Township Mayor Michael Puzio. He is a Republican, but he also was endorsed last year by township Democrats.

“We’ve never run somebody (for sheriff) as qualified as Bill,” Robinson said.

Some past candidates may debate that, but one thing is true, the general election for Morris County Sheriff has not been competitive in recent memory.  Time will tell if this one will be any different.

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