Peace has come to Morris County Republicans – sort of.
Litigation involving Tom Mastrangelo and Sarah Neibart stemming from a nasty primary fight last June has been settled “amicably,” according to lawyers on both sides. An official settlement is being drawn up and will be filed with the court soon, they said.
The campaign six months ago was a memorable one.
The GOP county committee declined to endorse Mastrangelo, an incumbent county commissioner. Instead, committee members went with Neibart, a Mendham Township committee woman.
Running “off line,” Mastrangelo released a campaign piece highlighting Neibart’s appearance at a Drag Queen story hour in her hometown; she was mayor at the time.
Mastrangelo used – successfully as it turned out – this event to portray Neibart as promoting a “woke” agenda, indoctrinating kids and imitating AOC, of all people. While his tactics were condemned by the GOP committee, they apparently struck a chord with the more conservative primary voters. Mastrangelo won by a bit more than 800 votes.
Neibart didn’t ignore the attack.
She fought back with some colorful campaign material of her own, among other things, claiming that Mastrangelo has had “multiple” criminal convictions.
With emotions high, Mastrangelo sued Neibart over her campaign tactics. She returned the favor with a countersuit.
Both sides engaged all summer over various aspects of the case. The filings certainly captured the animosity that began during the campaign.
Filings on Mastrangelo’s behalf said some of Neibart’s campaign material was “patently false and defamatory and created with actual malice and have damaged plaintiff’s reputation and business interests.” For instance, he does not have “multiple” criminal convictions. His lawyers said in their filings that Mastrangelo has had a “road rage” incident that was expunged.
Neibart’s filings said Mastrangelo’s campaign resulted in “cyberbullying” and public ridicule, including “being admonished as a ‘pedophile’ while campaigning.” The filings claimed that Mastrangelo’s attacks gave Neibart much emotional distress.
Last month, the case was moved to Passaic County, presumably to avoid any conflict in Morris.
Now, a settlement has been struck, thereby sparing a judge in Passaic from the joys of wading into Morris Republican politics.
But let’s not ignore the politics outside the courtroom, which may be what is most interesting to local observers.
Mastrangelo already was on the outs with the local GOP establishment prior to the primary. As noted, Neibart got the endorsement and “line” of the Morris GOP committee.
That estrangement has only gotten worse. Mastrangelo officially ran on the same general election ticket as fellow Republicans Doug Cabana and Christine Myers, but they seldom appeared together at campaign events. Not that it mattered, they all won by about 20,000 votes each.
Just a few days ago, Commissioner Tayfun Selen announced plans to seek reelection by trumpeting an “avalanche” of endorsements from fellow Republicans. That list included 21 mayors, the sheriff, five of his fellow commissioners and a commissioner-elect.
Mastrangelo was notable for his absence.
As for Neibart, she’s been seen as a rising Republican star. The question now is if Mastrangelo’s attacks last primary season are going to hinder Neibart down the road.
For many on the county’s Republican committee, that would be a shame.