Steak and Lobster – Harding’s Version of a Blue Collar Firehouse Fundraiser


Running for office for the first time comes with a lot of unexpected delights – one of which is eating lobster in a firehouse as Mikie Sherrill discovered Friday night.

Sherrill, the Democratic candidate for Congress in CD-11, was one of the hundreds who showed up at the annual steak and lobster dinner at the New Vernon Firehouse in Harding Township.

Many fire departments raise money. But they all don’t do it with steak and lobster, as they do in Harding, one of the most affluent towns in the state.

The fundraiser is held annually on the first Friday in June. When that day falls before primary day on the first Tuesday, you can bet candidates are going to show up to chat with potential voters.

The event is quite popular. For a modest fee, you have a choice of steak or lobster. A salad bar and French fries are included along with beer or wine. People arrive early and the line to be seated can extend the length of a football field – or more.

As diners lined up, all five candidates seeking three Republican Morris County freeholder nominations on Tuesday were there to greet them.

John Krickus is a veteran of such things. He starts at the front of the line and gradually makes his way to the rear, chatting up voters as he goes. His running-mate, Stephen Shaw, was with him. Also on hand was Deborah Smith, the third member of the freeholder team.

The race has gotten nasty. Recent mailings from the Smith, Krickus and Shaw team have attacked their opponents John Cesaro and Aura Dunn. One mailing features a picture of an alligator and suggests that the swamp must be drained.

That prompted Cesaro and Dunn to send out a statement saying in part, “This toxicity serves no one and only further isolates the public.”

It’s always hard to ascertain how many, if any, votes candidates pick up talking to people eating dinner or waiting to do so.

Asked later in the evening if she thought she got any votes, Dunn said, “I think so.”

Sherrill, meanwhile, was not doing much overt politicking.

But she did meet an old friend of sorts.

That would be Harding resident Nancy Barrett who said she had been a regular at the “Fridays with Frelinghuysen” events.

This was the name given to weekly protests outside Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s Morristown office. The protests began because of Frelinghuysen’s refusal to hold a town hall meeting, but soon morphed into a general condemnation of the congressman’s positions. Sherrill, who at the time assumed she’d be running against Frelinghuysen, occasionally joined them.

Whether the protests were a factor in Frelinghuysen opting not to seek reelection is debatable, but it seems clear he could have handled them better.

Frelinghuysen, in fact, lives in Harding and often has attended the steak and lobster dinner.

But unless he arrived very late, Frelinghuysen, who has kept a low public profile since bowing out of the race in January, was not at this one.

“I guess it’s just not his year,” Barrett observed.

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