The Morristown Democratic Committee has gone to Superior Court seeking permission to place Michael Elms on the June 4 primary ballot, replacing Councilman Kevin Gsell, who quit the race this week.
A hearing is scheduled for April 25 before state Superior Court Judge Stephan Hansbury.
“He’ll be a fabulous councilman,” Mary Dougherty, the town Democratic chairwoman, said of Michael Elms. Michael is a realtor who has served on the town zoning board. He also was treasurer for Mayor Tim Dougherty’s 2009 campaign.
The Democratic committee nominated Michael during a conference call on Wednesday, Mary Dougherty said. All 18 committee members were invited to participate, she said, and 10 chose to do so. Their selection was unanimous, she said.
If the judge approves the nomination, Michael would join the slate of Mayor Dougherty and Council members Michelle Dupree Harris and Toshiba Foster.
They will face Democratic council challengers Tommy Alexander, former head of the town’s human services department; planning board member Michael Pooler; and Jessica Williamson of the town environmental commission. The Mayor is unopposed in the primary.
Jessica Williamson disputed that she was invited to participate in the nomination of Michael Elms.
“I am on the Democratic committee and I was not invited to the phone conference. I was specifically told by Mary that there was no meeting,” Jessica said.
Kevin Gsell surprised the Mayor’s slate by quitting the race on April 15, telling the Mayor that his bid was accepted on a home in Morris Township.
State election laws say the deadline for making changes on the ballot is April 15, said attorney Sharon L. Weiner, secretary of the town Democratic committee. But those laws makes exceptions when candidates resign, she said, and the committee will ask Judge Hansbury to consider this such an exception.
Usually, a nominating petition for a successor candidate must be submitted within three days of a candidate’s resignation, Sharon said.
The rules say that the new petition must contain at least half of the same signatures on the original candidate’s filing petition, Sharon said. In this case, she said, that would amount to about 60 names from Kevin Gsell’s campaign paperwork.
The committee is gathering the signatures now and expects to have them in time for the April 25 hearing, Sharon said.
“The issue is, the candidates put up by the party were interviewed and vetted. We know they would be strong, viable candidates. We don’t think that the other three candidates meet those criteria,” said the lawyer, who is with the firm of Murphy McKeon. She is working on this case with attorney Daniel Zwillenberg of the firm DeCotiis, FitzPatrick, Cole & Wisler.
If the court ruling does not go its way, the town Democratic committee may mount a write-in campaign for Michael Elms, Sharon said.
Morris County already is printing ballots for the local primary, Sharon Weiner said, but they only are for absentee ballots requested by any of Morristown’s 3,897 registered Democrats. The legal battle is get Michael Elms’ name on the Democratic party line in voting machines and sample ballots for June 4, Sharon said.
Asked about the timing of Kevin Gsell’s announcement, Mary Dougherty said she wished Kevin well.
“He told us he had the opportunity of a lifetime. He put in a bid on an estate sale that was accepted, and he told us as soon as it was accepted. We wish he and his wife all the best in their new house,” said Mary, who is married to the Mayor.
Attempts to reach Kevin about his decision have been unsuccessful.