The Top 10 Morris County Political Events of the Last 25 Years

Former Senator Rodney Frelinghuysen, who has had no public involvement with Republican colleagues even before leaving office in January, has put his name at the top of a list of GOP officials endorsing Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco’s reelection.

Morris County traditionally has been a pretty reliable Republican bastion. But that doesn’t mean politics in one of the largest counties in New Jersey is dull.

Far from it.

What follows is an informal assessment of the top-10 Morris County political stories and events of the past 25 years or so in chronological order.

June, 1992 – Ed Rochford beats Sheriff John M. Fox.
Fox at the time was one of the county’s most prominent politicians. Part of this was his outgoing, confident personality. Another part of it were a series of innovations he brought to the sheriff’s office in an 18-year run. They included a K-9 unit, an inmate labor work program, and a forensics unit. No matter, GOP primary voters grew tired of his style and Rochford, then a deputy chief with Morris Township Police, took advantage. And he, Rochford, ended up serving six years longer as sheriff than Fox.

November, 1992 – President George H. W. Bush ends his reelection campaign in Madison.
Yep, the Monday before the 1992  presidential election found Bush addressing a huge crowd on a damp, chilly morning outside the borough’s stately town hall – The Hartley Dodge Memorial.
As we all know, Bush’s belief that the road to staying in the Rose Garden went through the Rose City didn’t pan out, but this was probably the last time a presidential candidate made a significant campaign stop not only in Morris County, but in New Jersey, a state that now is considered solidly “blue.”

November, 1993 – Gordon MacInnes upsets John Dorsey to win a state Senate seat in District 25.
In doing so,  MacInnes became the only Democrat to win county or state office in a mostly Morris County district since Watergate. There were a few factors involved here, one of which was the fact Dorsey was disliked by many Republicans. And then, there was his use of senatorial courtesy to block the reappointment of a female judge. MacInnes’ day in the sun, or rather the upper house in Trenton, lasted only four years. That’s when he lost to Anthony R. Bucco, who is still there. But MacInnes’ win still must rank as a major county political event.

June, 1994 (and later) – The rise of Chris Christe, and all that went with it.
The “rise” was his upset win in the 1994 freeholder primary. At the time, he was an unknown running with a veteran politician (John O’Keeffe) who had lost a freeholder reelection bid three years before. What “went with it” were three lawsuits involving Christie in three years and a failed primary bid to get to the state Assembly in 1995, not to mention a losing freeholder reelection bid in 1997. He left office with observers thinking his political career was over. 

July, 2007 – Anti-illegal immigration rally in Morristown.
This was a strange event. Mayor Donald Cresitello, a Democrat, was going against the tenets of his party by seeking to give local cops the power to enforce federal immigration law. The issue at the time were day laborers who congregated daily on selected street corners looking for work,. The mayor got backing from protest organizer Robb Pearson of Mount Olive. The protest in support of Cresitello drew people on both sides of the issue. Some 11 years later, Cresitello is no longer mayor, Pearson no longer lives in New Jersey and Morristiown is very much a Sanctuary City. Go figure.November, 2009 – Christie elected governor.
You have to give Christie some credit for making this list twice. While a man being elected governor is not necessarily a Morris County event, the “news” was that the county now had one of its own running the state.2009-10 – Tea Party protests on the Morristown Green.
Yep, what was then a burgeoning Tea Party movement held periodic protests on the historic Green. The crowds were not overly huge, but passionate protests condemned President Obama and health care reform, and of course, a few on the fringe waved signs claiming the president was born in Kenya. (No, none of them was Donald Trump, but one supposes, one could have been.)

November, 2017 – Democrat Michael Soriano elected mayor of Parsippany.
It’s true that Democrats have been elected mayor of Morris County’s largest town before  But Soriano grew up in Queens and is of Puerto Rican descent. That is ample proof that county demographics – and perhaps its politics – is changing.

January, 2018 – Rodney P. Frelinghuysen says he’s not seeking reelection.
This was a bombshell of sorts, the impact of which has not yet fully played out. While Frelinghuysen was under siege by protesters outside his office, it was still a shock to see him back out. And in doing so rather late in the game, he inevitably put Jay Webber, the Republican running this fall to replace him, in a financial hole. Democrat Mikie Sherrill was able to start raising money for her campaign long before Webber even knew the seat was becoming open. We will see what that really means in about three and a half months.

2018 –  More protests in Morristown.
In January, there was a women’s march. Two months later, there was a gun control march. Both protests each drew an estimated 15,000 people. The turnouts were impressive. But whether they translate into more votes for Democratic candidates this fall remains to be seen.
Nonetheless, the political activism in historic Morristown was unprecedented, at least recently.

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