Handicapping the LD25 Special Senate Contest


State Senate races in New Jersey don’t normally coincide with presidential elections, but things are a little different this year in Morris County’s 25th District.

Following last fall’s death of longtime Sen. Anthony R. Bucco, there will be a special election this year to fill a seat now occupied by his son, Anthony M. Bucco. The younger Bucco was chosen last year by Republican county committee members to replace his father in the Senate as proscribed by law. But Bucco’s seat will be up for election this fall.

Three Democrats already have said they want the job.

The most recent was Jeff Grayzel, a former mayor and current deputy mayor in Morris Township.

The others are Cliff Dawkins of Rockaway Borough and Rupande Mehta of Denville.

This really is a tough race to handicap, even with the disclaimer that many races are tough to handicap.

Democrats have been doing better of late in traditionally Republican Morris. Consider that Democrats Mikie Sherrill and Tom Malinowski now represent the county in Congress. Still, the GOP has held serve in District 25, helped greatly by big wins in the western part of the district – think Roxbury, Washington Township and the Chesters.

But in this presidential year, past election patterns probably don’t mean that much. After all, turnout this year figures to be quite high.

Chip Robinson, the chair of the Morris County Democratic Committee, says the group will endorse a candidate at a convention on March. 15. It’s possible other hopefuls will step forward, but as of now, only the three candidates are trying to woo county committee members and other Democratic leaders in the district, which also includes Bernardsville in Somerset County.

Dawkins, an employment and labor attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the Rockaway Borough Council last year, says on his Web page that “our representatives have not been doing enough for families here in the 25th District.”  He speaks of such generic goals as property tax relief, affordable healthcare, fully funded schools and infrastructure investment. Just about everyone would agree with those goals; the trick is getting it done.

Mehta of Denville has lost two races – a try for the Denville council in 2017 and a county freeholder run in 2018. She can take some solace from the fact the three-person freeholder slate on which she was on had the party’s best showing in decades, losing by about only 10,000 votes.

“My professional focus is on finding solutions to difficult problems,” she said in a recent release. “I will use my talents and abilities to solve New Jersey’s pressing issues”

Grayzel is the only one of the three to hold elected office, having served a few stints on the Morris Township Committee. He is now enjoying serving on a committee that swung to Democratic control in the 2018 election.

He calls himself a “pragmatist,” and says he’s proud of steps the township has taken towards sustainability and trying to reduce traffic congestion.

Grayzel sees his electoral success in the township as a big boost to his Senate hopes. He notes that he won election in 2018 by about 1,500 votes in a municipality that has had a strong GOP tradition.

“I’m coming from a strong base of support,” he argues.

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