The fourth try was the charm for Cathy Wilson, who on Tuesday finally won the right to sit on the Morris Township Committee dais, instead of videotaping it from the audience.
“I’m feeling in shock,” Wilson said after she and fellow Democrat John Arvanites defeated Republican Committeewoman Louise Johnson and her running mate, Nicole Saphier, to crack the all-GOP governing body.
The victors were greeted by whoops and hollers in Morristown at Morris County Democratic Headquarters, a place experiencing unbridled jubilation for the first time in memory.
Although they did not win any freeholder or legislative seats, Democrats scored victories in local races in Morristown, Parsippany, Chatham, Madison and Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s hometown, Mendham.
County Democratic Chairman Chip Robinson chalked up the successes to public frustration with Christie and President Donald Trump.
“It drove people into our office the day after won,” Robinson said, with a smile so big his face seemed in danger of breaking. “I can’t even count how many seats we won all over the county.”
Wilson and Arvanites each got 26 percent of the vote (rounded); their opponents each came in around 24 percent, according to unofficial results from the Morris County Clerk’s Office.
It was believed to be the first double victory by Democrats in a municipality that has been solidly red for as long as anyone can remember. Lately, however, Democrats have been closing the gap on Republicans, according to voter registration numbers.
Wilson, a retired educator, said the difference for her this time was an exhausting door-to-door campaign.
“My first priority is, I need sleep,” she said. Wilson is the Township’s Democratic chair, and her long crusade for a more open government even led her to start webcasting committee meetings.
“I knocked on doors and talked to people and listened to their concerns and had conversations with them. Repeatedly. Over and over. All over the whole town,” she said.
“They also want a mix of views. They’re tired of the one-party monopoly in a town like ours.”
Wilson said she plans to ask many of them to serve on new advisory groups, for seniors issues, transportation, green space and taxes.
“Our message was crisp, concise, we kept it positive. That, I think was the formula to success,” said Arvanites, adding kudos to a hard-working campaign team.
The former Roseland mayor, who only moved to the Township last year, said his opponents ran a different race.
“I didn’t see any literature go out that said what they were looking to do. All they did was say negative things about Cathy and I,” Arvanites said.
Wilson said the Republicans’ “nasty … deceitful” tactics brought her to tears on one occasion.
Johnson, a retired corporate manager, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. Saphier, an M.D., said they had nothing to apologize for.
‘A VERY CONTENTIOUS POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT’
“I think Louise and I ran an amazing campaign…I wouldn’t change anything we did. We knocked on over 3,000 doors.
“In the end, it’s a very contentious political environment right now. It’s very hard to compete with money from Phil Murphy,” Saphier said.
The Trump-Christie factor had an impact, too, she said.
“I think what’s going on at the national and state level directly correlates,” Saphier said, insisting that “Louise and myself were the more qualified candidates, with more volunteer commitments to things.”
(Democrats won governorships in New Jersey–although Phil Murphy did not win Morris County–and in Virginia.)
Yet Saphier wished the winners well, adding: “I trust the process. I support democracy. The people have spoken. And that’s where they’re at right now.”
During the campaign, Wilson chided Saphier for missing meetings of the Township Economic Development Advisory Committee, on which she serves. Saphier labeled Wilson a “nonsensical obstructionist.”
Wilson also had accused Johnson and her fellow Township Committee members of keeping the public in the dark about $2 million of planned improvements to Cornine Field. And the Democrats’ mailings rapped Johnson for referring to the “racial area” of the Township during a forum last month.
For their part, Johnson and Saphier made a point of contrasting the traditionally conservative Township with its liberal neighbor, Morristown, and its “fair and welcoming” policy toward undocumented immigrants.
Such a program would “hamstring our police officers from keeping you safe” if enacted by the Township, Johnson told a candidates forum.
The Republicans also noted how Arvanites, an accountant, got fined for late filings of campaign spending reports back in Roseland.
That sounded like ancient history at the exuberant Democratic headquarters on Tuesday. Going forward, Arvanites said his priorities will be trimming budget surpluses to lower taxes, and improving the Collinsville park.
But that starts in January. First, he’s looking forward to telling his daughter Layna, 6, all about the election.
“She’s going to be very happy in the morning,” Arvanites said.