Before taking on the GOP, Morris County Dems will duke it out in court and at convention

mary dougherty
Morristown First Lady Mary Dougherty will be honored Saturday for her community spirit, in the tradition of the town's original First Lady, Mary Ann Cobb.

Traditionally, Democrats have had their hands full fighting Republicans in Morris County, where registered GOP voters hold more than a 2-to-1 advantage.

But in a rare twist, Morris Democrats are battling each other to lead this Quixotic mission.

mary dougherty
Morristown First Lady Mary Dougherty, who seeks the Morris County Democratic chairmanship, has filed a legal challenge to the selection process.

Mary Dougherty of Morristown and Chip Robinson of Lincoln Park will square off for the Morris Democratic chairmanship at a party convention Tuesday night, June 10, 2014, in Mountain Lakes.

First, however, Mary is scheduled to appear in Superior Court to challenge who will be allowed to vote at the convention.

Mary, who serves as Morristown’s Democratic chairperson and is married to Mayor Tim Dougherty, said that retiring county Chairman Lew Candura of Mount Olive is allowing local Democratic committees to fill vacancies at the 11th hour.

Allowing these newcomers to vote at the party convention before their party affiliations and residencies can be confirmed violates a 2009 state election law, contends Mary, who said mediation attempts have fallen short.

She has sued, and the matter has been scheduled for a hearing on Tuesday morning before Superior Court Judge Stephan Hansbury.

“All I want to know is, what is the legal process?” Mary said on Monday. “I don’t want to break the law.”

Attempts to reach Lew Candura and Chip Robinson were unsuccessful on Monday.

The county Democratic committee still is paying for past mistakes: It owes money on $19,675 in fines by the state Election Law Enforcement Commission for late filings of campaign reports in 2007 and 2008.

Mary, who became vice chair of the county committee three years ago, has made tighter management and better selection of candidates key planks of her campaign.

“We really have a great model here in Morristown that I would like to bring to Morris County. You’ve got to vet the right candidates and make sure they’re qualified. And you have to poll them, and make sure they communicate around issues that are important to the people, not to the politicians,” said Mary, Morristown’s former planning board chair and leader of the town Democratic committee for eight years.

Last month she joined the Morristown office of  RE/MAX Properties Unlimited as a realtor, joining Morristown Councilman Michael Elms. She is co-founder of the Morristown Women in Business, and will be honored Wednesday at the annual Phenomenal Women event of the Morristown Neighborhood House.

Chip Robinson, a Rutgers graduate with a law degree from Seton Hall, serves as executive director of the county Democrats. In an interview with The Star-Ledger, he said he has lots of support and expressed admiration for Lew Candura’s efforts in “the toughest county to campaign in as a Democrat in New Jersey.”

Lew Candura is stepping down as chairman after after a decade of uphill battles that included Democratic victories in Dover, East Hanover and Madison, with glimmers of success in Morris Township and Morris Plains.

Mary suggested that voter registrations eventually will become a little more favorable for Democrats across the county.

“Democrats are moving to Morris County in droves,” she said. “I’d like us to have more of a presence. With 39 towns, we could do better than this.”

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Copyright 2014