It’s not easy keeping secrets in a small town.
That may sound like the premise of a new soap opera, but in politically-turbulent Rockaway Township, it really amounts to more of the same.
This latest tale of intrigue begins – as they most often do – with a simple request to Doug Romaine, who achieved fame years ago as the only Democrat to ever win a Morris County freeholder seat.
Romaine now chairs the Rockaway Township Democratic Committee. He’s happy that the committee is growing – the party filled many previously open committee seats in the recent primary – but the township still skews Republican.
Romaine says he learned Republican Councilman Mike Puzio wanted to meet Mikie Sherrill, the Democratic congressional candidate in the 11th District.
That may have seemed a bit odd. Why does a GOP councilman want to meet the Democratic candidate?
But, of course, that was no concern for Romaine, who arranged a breakfast meeting Tuesday of this week at the local Townsquare Diner. He said he is obviously very well aware of a bitter division among township Republicans. The latest battle in that dispute played out last week in state Superior Court, Paterson.
Romaine noted that Puzio is not part of the “Gang of Five,” which was his reference to the five council members on one side of the ongoing war.
So, on this hot and stuffy Tuesday morning, Romaine was at the diner, as was Puzio and Democratic Councilman Jonathan Sackett. Sherrill attended with a few aides.
Then there was a surprise, if not unwelcome, guest.
That was Councilman Tucker Kelley, who to use Romaine’s term, is one of the “gang of five.”
Many people go to the local diner, but this was no chance visit.
Kelley admitted to being tipped off that Puzio and Sherrill were there. Ah, you’ve got to love small towns.
So he showed up to see what was going on.
Kelley said that by the time he got there,Sherrill already was on her way out. Kelley said he saw the candidate get in her car.
Of course, Kelley wondered why Puzio was meeting with Sherrill.
“He’s dancing with the Democrats and it’s disconcerting,” Kelley said.
Does Puzio plan to endorse Sherrill?
“Let’s not go down that road,” he said in a phone conversation.
Puzio explained that Picatinny Arsenal, a longstanding military base and a major northwest New Jersey employer, is in the township.
“It is important to get to know the new Congress-person, whoever it is,” he said. Rodney Frelinghuysen, who has represented the district for 24 years, is retiring.
Puzio said he already knows Republican candidate Jay Webber, but that he doesn’t know Sherrill.
It is true that Picatinny is a major local concern, given the fact it often seems to be threatened with closure. Puzio said his meeting was all about collaborating with someone who may end up representing the township in Congress.
“My (council) job is not about politics,” he said.
Kelley isn’t buying it.
He said that if Puzio wanted to discuss Picatinny with Sherrill, he should have invited other council members to join him. And he said any discussion along those lines also should include Webber.
Romaine, who turns out to be a very innocent, but probably very amused, bystander in all this said in reference to a possible endorsement of Sherrill by some Rockaway Township Republicans, “News to come.”
Obviously, any endorsement by local Republicans of Sherrill, while interesting, won’t be all that significant in the grander scheme of things.
So the “news” here is that from now on, Rockaway Township politicos better look for more discreet dining spots.