The Mess in Mendham
MENDHAM TOWNSHIP – Tom Baio was in his “deputy mayor’s” seat Tuesday evening peering out at a crowded room.
This was for the most part, not an overly friendly group.
Various speakers in the room – and over zoom – told Baio his time was up – politically speaking,
“Shame on you Tom Baio,” said one woman at the start of the meeting.
Another said he should “gracefully” accept his defeat.
Baio did not respond to any of his critics.
This political sideshow is a strange one, but then it isn’t.
One of the enduring, but hardly commendable, legacies of the 2020 election is the refusal of some candidates to accept losing. .
This Morris County town – the home of former Governor Chris Christie – has become competitive of late.
When the votes were counted last month for the township committee, Baio had lost reelection by two votes to Democrat Lauren Spirig.
A recount was held, which is understandable when the results are that close. The recount gave Spirig another vote; so now she won by three votes.
This was a big win for Democrats, but the bottom line is that Republicans will still control the committee by a 3-2 margin.
Not good enough – apparently.
Morris County Republicans issued a release saying they would challenge the election. Why?
The assertion was that 29 people voted who do not live in the township. More specifically, the GOP seemed to build its challenge around young people who are now “away,” but who voted from their home address.
Republicans, in fact, cited the daughter of Amalia Duarte as one of those young people who voted improperly. Duarte is both the other Dem on the committee and also the chair of the Morris County Democratic Committee.
Duarte spoke at the meeting – a bit emotionally. She called the controversy “insane,” and said it
has hurt her family and the town. “We are an absolute laughingstock,” she said.
Some speakers were from out of town, but they sought to make a point.
Democrats Gary Coluci of Mine Hill and T.C. McCourt of Dover both have lost races for county freeholder/commissioner. Yes, Democrats running for freeholder in Morris have vast experience with losing races.
Their point, though, was this: “It’s no fun to lose, we know that. But you have to accept defeat.”
Not all who spoke were on the same side.
One woman said the issue is not simply young people away at college voting “back home.” She said some who voted by mail are truly not township residents. Another man made the same point, adding that voting illegally is not a joke, but a crime.
Many also lamented how the dispute is splitting the township. That seems true, but also inevitable in these polarizing times.
This matter is reverberating far and wide. There was even a story about it in The Guardian, a British publication.
One man, commenting over zoom, said the way to avoid such problems is to have ranked choice voting.
Perhaps in the future, but that’s not going to help now.
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Republicans feel they can win by these distractions and they don’t care how divided there Town is. I am proud that Democrats spoke out but you can’t shame the shameless.
One speaker raised an interesting question, ” Why is Baio fighting so hard to stay in power? What does it serve him, who has he promised something to, or what does he stand to gain?” I have thought about this over and over, as Baio is an architect, and the Republicans are in favor of growth and development over restoration and preservation. In our small town, which sits on the headwaters of two major NJ rivers, preservation is vital. However, architects want to build. I keep wondering about this, and the shameless, desperate disgrace Mr. Baio is.