The Unique Political History of GOP Primaries in Morris County

Running against incumbents is always challenging, but even more so when a town or county has no glaring problems.

That quite candidly describes Morris County, one of the more affluent and desirable places to live in New Jersey.

Undaunted by that, Republicans Donald Dinsmore, William Felegi and Cathy Winterfield announced plans this week to run together in hopes of beating Freeholders Doug Cabana, Tom Mastrangelo and Kathy DeFillippo in the June Republican primary. It’s a steep hill to be sure,  but no one familiar with the county’s unique political history should dismiss the insurgents out of hand.

Consider that unlike most political organizations in New Jersey, Morris Republicans do not have a “county line,” meaning the party makes no endorsements. So, no candidates appear on the ballot with the imprimatur of the Morris County Republican Committee.

This makes the drawing for ballot position critically important.

Over the years, a number of seemingly unknown freeholder candidates have won the primary and ultimately seats on the board thanks to a good ballot spot and the “open primary” tradition. There was 23-year-old Hank Lyon in 2011 and a few years before that, James Murray, a one-time engineer for the county, upended incumbent John Inglesino. And let’s go back more than two decades when Chris Christie, then a young man relatively new to the county, surprisingly won the primary.

So, with that backdrop, the old sports cliche that “anything can happen” once the game starts seems to apply.

Dinsmore is a lawyer from Harding whose late father served on the municipal governing body.

Felegi is a middle school teacher and a National Guard veteran. He lives in Jefferson.

Winterfield lives in Pequannock and works as financial administrator at Seton Hall University. Winterfield is the only member of the team to have held elected office, but that experience cuts both ways. A former mayor of Pequannock, she lost her reelection bid in last June’s primary.

The team’s slogan is the “Future of Morris.” One presumes that theme will be more fully developed in the four months or so between now and the primary.

A kickoff announcement is usually a time for sweeping generalizations and goals and this one was no exception. The trio talked about “keeping taxes low, eliminating wasteful spending, collaborating with our constituents and making sure transparency and accountability are the cornerstone of every project and decision will be our steadfast pledge.”  Who’s going to quarrel with that?

Felegi made a more substantive comment in the campaign release when he talked about “targeted attacks by people (who) want to turn our state into a sanctuary county.”

This is not an issue in the Republican primary as the freeholders oppose such a designation. But it could be an issue against the Democrats in the fall.

Speaking of that, Cabana, taking note of more spirited Democratic opposition of late, says he wishes that would translate into more party unity.

With more than 20 years on the board, Cabana is one of the longest serving freeholders in the state. He said “name recognition” experience and accomplishments are the key to any election and this one won’t be any different. As for the task of fighting off a primary challenge, he said it’s simply the way things are in Morris County.

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