Front lining the GOP’s Defensive Position with Somerset Freeholder Walsh

Somerset County Freeholder Pat Walsh.

SOMERVILLE – The 2019 torchbearer of a proudly sedate GOP history here – including a successful 1993 springboard to governor from the Somerset Freeholder Board to Drumthwacket by Christie Todd Whitman – incumbent Republican Freeholder Pat Walsh now holds the forward defensive position for a party badly mauled by President Donald J. Trump.

If Walsh loses her countywide run on Nov. 5th to Democratic challenger Melonie Marano, the GOP will lose decades-long control of the freeholder board, arguably a seismic Central Jersey political shift.

It’s interesting that protection of the kingdom falls to Walsh.

In its hour of need, the party is not saddling responsibility for its continuing governance on an aristocrat from the county’s northern horse country, but on a scrappy Catholic, a nurse by trade, who was born and raised in Plainfield, and served as mayor of Green Brook Twp., who helped shovel her home town out of the 1999 devastation wrought by Hurricane Floyd.

Walsh is not Frelinghuysen or Lance, names embossed by time in the annals of establishment

The late Linden Mayor John Gregorio
The late Linden Mayor John Gregorio

Republican service, shockingly unhorsed in the Trump era. She’s the former assembly candidate in the 22nd District who went to Linden to campaign for a seat and ran headlong into then-Mayor John Gregorio.

“I saw him with two goons in turtle necks and leather jackets,” Walsh recalled. “He walked up to me and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was campaigning. He said, ‘Nobody runs in my town without my permission.'” Walsh lost that unfortunate election, the byproduct of redistricting that chopped Green Brook Twp. out of the Republican 21st and plopped in the Democratic 22nd.

But, as hard as Democrats try to make Trump the issue, as much as her adversaries rejoice in the din of voters committed to sending a message to Washington in the home county of the president’s own beloved golf course, she said she doesn’t intend to lose this one.

First elected to the freeholder board in 2007, Walsh said she’s running on her record.

A Somerset record.

“No mater the metric, Somerset always comes out in the top ten percent nationally in terms of quality of life,” she told InsiderNJ in the local Starbucks here. “Sometimes it takes long, but that’s because we make sure it’s done right the first time. I firmly believe this did not happen by chance, this county. We have worked to deliver good, fiscally conservative representation to the people of Somerset County, Republican governance that has served this county for the last 40-50 years.

“Most of our residents have done their homework,” she added. “They don’t move to Middlesex or Union. When they’re moving, they come here for the quality of life.

“This is my seat, and I don’t intend to lose it,” Walsh said. “We have worked hard to get here. That’s the message. That’s what I tell people when I’m campaigning. ‘Look what you have.’ I talk about our wonderful park systems and shared services. This campaign is not about anywhere else but Somerset.”

She served on the township committee in green Brook Township for 14 years, 11 of those years as mayor. She hired the first full-time administrator, engineer and township attorney. She presided over the fusion of EMS and fire, and personally secured FEMA funds to rebuild the flooded municipal building after Floyd.

“I’ve never been a sit-back-and-watch person,” the freeholder said. “I’m good at building consensus, which is why it’s never my initiative on the freeholder board, but our initiative.”


In their first clash at Somerville High School last week, Marano – who herself served as mayor of Green Brook Twp. but for just a year – prodded Walsh on the Trump question.

“Trump’s our campaign manager,” an ebullient Democrat told InsiderNJ yesterday.

County signs for Democrats last year featured anti-Trump slogans and little else.

Walsh knows the climate.

LD16 gone.

Senator Kip Bateman 600 votes shy of going the way of Lance a year later.

Two incumbent Freeholders out in 2018.

The battle lines rearranged amid either celebratory or plaintive cries of inevitability on both sides.

The walls of the castle are trembling, falling, the Trump factor plunging the realm into political chaos.

The Democrats will try to make Walsh’s social conservatism an issue too as this campaign cycle intensifies.

But the ubiquitous, campaign-mode former Republican mayor from the southern end of Route 22 appeared to be in her element as she headed toward the door and a car pointed perpetually at the Somerset County campaign trail.

She’s on her home turf, Walsh, not Gregorio’s.

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