CHATHAM TOWNSHIP – Doug Cabana, a Morris County freeholder/commissioner since the late 1990’s, is usually fairly reserved in his public comments.
But on Thursday night he railed against “privileged elitists,” namely Democrats, who he said have forgotten their roots.
Still reacting to a large group of Democratic critics who descended upon last week’s county commissioners’ meeting, Cabana said the board was called “every name in the book.” The controversial business of the night centered on guns and school curriculum, but it was the sometimes accusatory tone of the objectors that seemed to rile Cabana the most.
Thursday’s event in a local deli/restaurant was a partisan setting to be sure – a campaign kickoff for two Republican township committee candidates this fall. Still, Cabana’s strident tone was noteworthy and probably symbolic of today’s political polarization, not only in Morris but across the state.
Chatham Township, which is distinct from Chatham Borough, is only one town, but in some ways it is similar to other suburban locales in New Jersey.
Like most of suburbia, the township was solidly Republican until a few years ago when Democrats took control. But last year Republicans won the only seat on the local ballot to regain a 3-2 margin on the committee. This was no landslide; Republican Mark Lois won by 25 votes.
Mindful of trends elsewhere in the county – and state – party members said this was a grand achievement. After all, many towns that go “blue” never go back to “red.”
There is much less pressure this year – up to a point. The two Democratic-held seats are up, so even if Republicans lose, they will keep control.
But that’s not good enough.
Buoyed by last year’s success, the GOP is hoping to win both seats, thereby making the township committee 5-0 in their favor.
The party’s candidates are Ron Rubino and Dawn Flynn. They are challenging incumbents Stacey Ewald and Celeste Fondaco.
An emerging theme at Republican gatherings these days is voting by mail. Democrats do it better and many Republicans say they need to catch up.
“We need to level the playing field,” is how Rubino put it.
A problem, of course, is the belief mail-in ballots are not safe and prone to manipulation by sinister outside forces. The fact these fears have been enunciated by Donald Trump himself exemplifies the challenge.
The township is in CD-11, meaning that Democrat Rep. Mikie Sherrill will be at the top of the ballot.
When Republicans are in their most partisan mood, it’s common for them to condemn Sherrill as a radical leftist. Cabana called her a “Pelosi-wannabe.” It wasn’t meant as a compliment.
Yet, Lois admitted that with Sherrill, Democrats will have strength at the top of the ticket.
“We need Paul DeGroot (the GOP candidate) to come out strong, to have good debates and to have a good campaign. And I think he will,” Lois said.
There’s also governing the town.
Lois and others talked about no municipal tax increase this year and a more active approach to such basic municipal issues as road paving and park improvements.
Specifically, he said the township was able to open park restrooms, which had been closed for years, by installing automated doors. Nothing more basic than that.