James Santonastaso seems to be a quick learner.
“We don’t have time to be arguing among each other,” says the new executive director of the Sussex County Democratic Committee.
Santonastaso comes on board after last week’s election of a new leadership team headed by Chair Dawne Rowe. That vote was a year ahead of schedule and came a few months after some in the party sought the resignation of the previous chair, Katie Rotondi.
In the wake of that division, Santonastaso says he wants to sit down with all in the party and talk about getting back “on the same team.”
Unity is always important, but it’s probably more paramount for Sussex Dems. Parts of surbubia are turning blue, but that’s not happening in Sussex where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-1.
Santonastaso is looking at unaffiliated voters, a large bloc in any county.
He sees a lot of “untapped potential” in the unaffiliated and hopes Democrats can be that “large umbrella party” and give them a home.
There’s nothing wrong with this type of thinking, but here’s the problem. Those who are undeclared are not necessarily neutral or truly independent. Many voters remain undeclared simply because they don’t want to publicly reveal their leanings. So in a Republican area, the undeclared may think and vote like Republicans even if they aren’t
registered as such. The same is true in Democratic-leaning counties.
This makes the job of the minority party more difficult.
Santonastaso seems undaunted. He says he wants to crunch some numbers and see where Dems have the best chance this fall to pull an upset. It normally is “easier” for outnumbered parties to make inroads locally where the issues can be road upkeep, recreation and property taxes.
Santonastaso says he wants to give local candidates the tools they need to run viable campaigns. The simple act of campaigning can be challenging this year.
“Knocking on doors is not going to be a thing,” he said.
Santonastaso’s work in Sussex is purely volunteer. In “real life:” he works for Parano and Associates, a political consulting firm.
Santonastaso is a mere 22; he turns 23 in August. But considering the task that’s before him – truly challenging GOP dominance in Sussex – he may age quickly.