If Morris County Republicans don’t take action now, “This is going to become Bergen County.”
That was the dire warning Tuesday night from Freeholder Tom Mastrangelo.
Speaking of internal fights, Mastrangelo said, “It’s time that this stops. We all have to come together.”
Offering no formal endorsement of anybody, Mastrangelo was addressing a gathering of Morris Republicans who had come to the spiffy Black Oak Country Club in the Long Valley section of Washington Township to support the freeholder candidacy of John Krickus.
Krickus had his say, but the evening soon evolved into a rallying cry for Republicans to essentially hold a fort that may be very well at risk.
“We can’t take anything for granted like we used to,” said Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco, R-25th. “We need as a party to stay together.”
What’s prompting Republican concerns in a county where there has been only one – that’s right, one – Democratic freeholder in recorded history? And that was at the height of the Watergate scandal.
For one, there were a surprising number of Democratic municipal election wins last fall?
And even in the 25th District, GOP lawmakers needed a late-night surge to keep their seats. Bucco, in fact, joked (perhaps) that Washington Township provided about half his margin of victory.
Nor is anyone immune to the national drumbeat of Democratic enthusiasm and confidence as the midterm election nears and GOP House members abandon their reelection bids. This is a list that now includes House Speaker Paul Ryan, not to mention local favorite Rodney Frelinghuysen.
A lot of the Democrats’ optimism, of course, can prove fleeting. Things can change quickly in politics and the election is still seven months away. But Morris Republicans want to be ready.
Referring to a possible “blue wave” this fall, Bucco said, “We’ve got to turn that wave back.” And staying with ocean imagery, he added, “This is our time to draw a line in the sand.”
Mastrangelo’s comment referred to the fact that not all that long ago Bergen County arguably had the most powerful Republican organization in New Jersey. Today, every elected county-level office is occupied by a Democrat.
Republicans agreed that one way to maintain control is to stress how well the GOP runs things starting with the local level.
“We have a great story to tell,” said Krickus, a freeholder from 2012 to 2015 who wants to return to the board.
He said he is proud that the board he was on held the line on property taxes and still managed to increase some services. For instance, Krickus noted that a county trail system was expanded without raising the open space tax.
Demonstrating the efficiency of Republican government, Krickus compared Morris with Democratic-run Union County, which he said has a budget about twice the size of Morris.
The current Morris County budget is about $332 million, compared to Union’s $506 million. Union has about 35,000 more people. While Krickus’ point was exaggerated a bit, it was well taken.
Talk of party unity, however, seemed a bit premature, and also a trifle ironic, given the fact the setting was a fundraiser for a man running in a contested primary.
Krickus is teaming up with incumbent Deborah Smith and Stephen Shaw. Also in the race are incumbent John Cesaro, his teammate Aura Dunn and Rob Peluso. Three nominations are up.
Smith said success in November will be more easily attained if voters pick the “right candidates” in June.
More broadly, speakers talked about the need for Republicans to go door-to-door in the fall, an activity that long has been relegated to the primary, and to make use of vote-by-mail, which used to be called an absentee ballot.
Jack M. Ciattarelli, a former state Assemblyman from nearby Somerset County, agreed that Republicans can demonstrate that “we govern best” by winning local elections.
But his mostly upbeat comments also came with a warning.
He reminded the crowd that last fall a Democrat upset a Republican in the race for Somerset County Clerk. He said things became more embarrassing for Republicans when Phil Murphy, who was then governor-elect, showed up in Somerset to swear in the new Democratic clerk.
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