Fire on the Mountain

Long Valley and Schooley’s Mountain are two of the more bucolic parts of Morris County, nestled near the Hunterdon and Warren county lines.

Rural peacefulness, however, doesn’t always extend to local politics in what is Washington Township. There are no Democrats on the governing body, so any spat is purely a Republican thing.

The current saga involves one, John Tyler Oborn, who was elected to the five-person Township Committee in 2019, His term is up the end of the year and when the early April filing deadline came around, he dutifully filed for reelection. Nothing unusual about that.

However, Oborn is relocating to Alabama, which became widely known soon after the June 7 primary when he announced his resignation from the committee.

That means he will be replaced both on the committee, and also on the November ballot, presumably by the same person.

That’s not the real issue.

This is the real issue.

Why did Oborn run in the primary – he was unopposed –  if he wasn’t going to run in November? Or in other words, why run for a seat you had no intention of taking?

From a standpoint of pure party politics, this makes a lot of sense.

By running in the primary, winning, and then resigning, Oborn gave the local Republican municipal committee a chance to fill the seat by appointment.

If Oborn had not run, that would have been an open seat in the primary, and a few candidates – perhaps – would have run for it.  For obvious reasons, candidates prefer seeking an open seat as opposed to challenging an incumbent.

A primary with many candidates is good for voters, who have a real reason to vote.

But it can be bad for local political leaders who enjoy controlling what happens. Good God, why take a chance with voters? Who knows what they’ll do?

As we said, in this case, we’re talking about Republicans, but make no mistake, Democrats operate the same way. Clearly, an enduring problem in New Jersey – a land of far too many small towns – is that some local politicos act like they are running a private club rather than a public entity. All this is possible because of one-party rule, which is a chronic problem in many municipalities.

Not all are happy.

Gregg Forsbrey is a township committee member who often parts company with his colleagues.

He has taken to Facebook – where else – to condemn Oborn for running in the primary and then resigning.

“When it comes to ballot manipulation, the Republicans in Washington Township have a system in place,” Forsbrey writes, adding, “If election integrity is your thing, then Washington Township might not be the right place for you. Who is pulling the strings of all of this? Who would (knowingly) leave a candidate on a primary ballot so they could manipulate the outcome for their replacement?”

Time out.

Oborn says this isn’t how it happened.

He said in a phone conversation today that when he filed his nominating petition in April, he was unsure about relocating.

Clearly referring to Forsbrey, Oborn said, “He’s trying to make something out of nothing.” His point is that when he filed his petition, there was a possibility he would run again in November.

Oborn added that, “there was nothing untoward” about the process.

Fair point, but it is also fair to note that Oborn spoke about his candidacy as late as May 17, according to an item on the township GOP’s own Facebook page.

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