DOVER – Observers didn’t know what to expect when long-time Mayor James Dodd lost reelection (as an independent) last year and a team led by new mayor Carolyn Blackman took control of this historic Morris County town.
One thing probably no one expected was that this Democratic town council would pick as its interim administrator a former Republican governor.
Really. That just happened, although it does take some explaining.
The just-hired administrator is John O. Bennett the 3rd.
Let’s go back to 2001 when strange things happened.
First, Christie Whitman resigned as governor to head the federal EPA.
That made Senate President Donald DiFrancesco the governor, but his Senate term ended a few days before the gubernatorial term he was filling. So, Bennett, who was the new Republican Senate leader, was governor for a few days before Jim McGreevey’s term began in the middle of January, 2002. Bennett famously, or perhaps infamously, made good use of his brief tenure, issuing a pardon and throwing a party at the governor’s mansion.
Since then, Bennett has held a number of municipal administrative and attorney jobs around the state.
And Thursday night, he was hired as Dover’s interim administrator.
“We were very lucky to have found Mr. Bennett,” Blackman said, noting the former governor’s extensive experience. She said Bennett probably would serve for nine months – enough time for the town to find a permanent administrator. He will be paid $175,000.
But there was nothing easy about this.
It occurred at a raucous special meeting, which was quite remarkable considering the session was conducted via Zoom.
“Let the people speak,” yelled one person over the phone.
“It’s a democracy,” chimed in another.
Opponents said Bennett, who is white, is not the best choice for a town that is heavily Hispanic.
Blackman, very simply, was unable to control the meeting. As critics were continuing to complain over the phone, Blackman seemed indecisive, not allowing official public comment, but not calling for a vote either.
This crazy standoff continued for at least 20 minutes.
As the roll call finally occurred and Bennett’s hiring was approved, critics continued to scream in opposition over the phone. Things ultimately degenerated to such a point that members of the public were yelling and threatening each other.
Finally – and a bit belatedly – all members of the public were muted.
Blackman later explained that people were muted, because they were being disrespectful.
Welcome to Dover, Mr. Bennett.