Joe Calvanelli was holding forth Wednesday night in the middle of the Horseshoe Tavern in Morristown.
“Make no mistake, this is the epicenter,” he said passionately, surrounded by a mostly millennial crowd of Morris County Young Republicans.
Calvanelli was talking about Morris Township, which surrounds the town of Morristown on all sides.
Just as Democrats dominate more urban and diverse Morristown, Republicans long have ruled suburban Morris Township, which has a population of 22,000.
But GOP reign in what locals simply call “the township” is in peril.
Democrats last fall won two seats on the five-member township committee, which is now 3-2 in the GOP’s favor.
That in itself was not major news; Democrats periodically have won seats on the committee over the past decade or so. But they usually won by literally a handful of votes. One race actually ended in a tie and a “do-over,” or special election, was ordered by the courts, one Democrats won.
But last fall, Democratic candidates Cathy Wilson and John Arvanites bested two Republicans by about 300 votes each.
And this year, the Dems actually had enough interest for a four-person primary. The winners, Mark Gyorfy and Jeff Grayzel, a former committee member, will face incumbent Republican Bruce Sisler and the aforementioned Calvanelli. Incumbent Republican Matheu Nunn is not seeking reelection.
Morris Township is only one municipality, but the political implications of this fall’s race likely will reverberate beyond town borders.
Calling the town an “epicenter” is meant to convey a few things.
One is that a GOP win in the township will hold Republicans’ traditional advantage. More than that, it would also bode well for Jay Webber’s congressional campaign in the 11th District and Bob Hugin’s Senate campaign.
How do you make that happen?
Or asking the question the other way, how do Republicans stop the Democratic surge that surfaced last year.
“We’re going to do as much canvassing – knocking on doors – as we can,” said GOP Mayor Peter Mancuso. “It’s starting already.”
One man on hand Wednesday night was Jayson Kohut, who was just hired as field director for the county’s fall campaign. His mission, according to the county organization, will be to coordinate the “ground game” among the senate, congressional and local campaigns this fall.
Mancuso, a retired Wall Street executive with a long involvement in township politics, has achieved the status of local elder statesman.
He said the point that must be made locally is that, “We are doing it very, very well.” Mancuso said township services are excellent and that few can quibble with how the municipality is run. So, why end Republican control?
“You have to let people know what’s at stake,” Calvanelli said, adding that by working together the different campaigns can put out an organized and cohesive Republican message.
Calvanelli mentioned how the municipality has a Triple A bond rating.
“And that is not an accident,” he said.
No it’s not, but while it’s an important issue (it can help stabilize taxes), it is not a sexy one.
That may be the problem.
What may be working against the GOP is increased enthusiasm by those inclined to vote Democratic because of animosity to Donald Trump.
Overcoming that obstacle is probably the greatest challenge for those congregating around a hip bar in the middle of summer.