Unprecedented Nastiness in Morris County Republican Primaries

Insider NJ's Fred Snowflack gives an analysis of Morris County's Republican primary election fights, which for which the ongoing nastiness seems largely unprecedented.

BOONTON TWP.- The hot dogs and burgers were simmering on the grill and the beer was chilled. Few things are as traditional as a Sunday afternoon barbecue and that’s precisely what Doug Cabana had in mind.

But as Cabana hoped to capture this traditional slice of Americana and also give his freeholder reelection campaign a boost two days before primary day, no one could deny the animosity in the air. Not so much
in Cabana’s backyard on Powerville Road, but in the Morris County Republican Party.

Primary fights are common for a party that eschews a “county line” in favor of more authentic democracy. And over the years, there have been a few politically divisive figures seeking power among Morris Republicans.

Old timers, or at least semi-old timers, remember how then-sheriff John M. Fox was a controversial focal point in more than one primary in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Then, of course, there was Chris
Christie – and multiple law suits stemming from primary politics – a few years after that.

Still, the ongoing nastiness, some of which dates back to last year’s fight for party chair, seems largely unprecedented.

This primary we have heard talk about a candidate for surrogate having “topless” photos on the Internet. Isabella Alfano, who raised the issue, also has commented on the personal life of the same opponent,
suggesting she used a personal relationship to advance her career.

To many level-headed Republicans, this Puritanical posturing is “over the line” and more importantly, counterproductive.

Heather Darling, who is now a freeholder and the target of the attacks, has tried to bring the debate back to issues actually related to the surrogate’s office. In truth, they are rather fundamental, butimportant just the same. Darling is an attorney; Alfano is not. Being a lawyer is not required for the job, but you have to figure it helps.

The third candidate is Michael Carroll, who is giving up his Assembly seat for this. Carroll, also an attorney, likes to respond to the cracks about  topless photos by saying he hopes the campaign doesn’t
come down to a “beauty contest.”

Cabana’s two incumbent runningmates, Tom Mastrangelo and Kathy DeFillippo, joined him at Sunday’s cookout. Mastrangelo, in particular, has found the campaign greatly agitating. So much so that he has filed a complaint with the state Election Law Enforcement Commission about the tactics of his
opponents – the slate of Donald Dinsmore, William Felegi and Cathy Winterfield.

The most serious part of all this is a mailer that refers to an old Mastrangelo police issue – mugshot included – that has been expunged.

Another eye-opener is that the mailer doesn’t appear to carry the requited disclaimer.

Less serious in the great scheme of things, but perhaps more mysterious, is a campaign expense by Dinsmore to a Wyoming-based political consultant that doesn’t seem to exist.

ELEC complaints tend to drag on for a bit and that will probably happen here. Yet, you have to wonder if some of this will migrate from ELEC to a “real” court of law.

In a more basic political doing, the opponents Sunday announced that they have been endorsed by former Sheriff Ed Rochford. This is probably not a surprise, considering that the freeholder board a few
years ago took control of the jail away from Rochford. When a new sheriff was elected, they promptly gave it back.

There is also a District 25 Assembly primary going on, which compared to the other two races, has been rather low-key. Sort of.

The candidates are incumbent Anthony M. Bucco, Aura Dunn, Brian Bergen and John Barbarula.

Like the freeholder opposition slate, Bergen also has hired the Wyoming consultant, and also like the freeholder candidates, he’s not talking about it.

This has prompted Assemblywoman Bettylou DeCroce, who has no primary in District 26, to propose a bill barring candidates from using “shell companies” as political consultants.

In what figures to be a low turnout election, there are no public polls, so what happens on Tuesday is anybody’s guess.

But what seems quite apparent is that starting Wednesday morning, cooler heads will have to try to unify a very un-unified group of Republicans.

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