Two-party government starts on congenial note in Morris Township

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After four tries to win a seat on the Morris Township Committee, Cathy Wilson finally got to admire the view on Wednesday.

“I can’t get over how different it looks from here!” she said, settling into her chair on the dais for the first time, to roars of laughter in the packed meeting chamber.

FOURTH TIME IS THE CHARM: Cathy Wilson is sworn in as a Morris Township committeewoman, Jan. 3, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier
FOURTH TIME IS THE CHARM: Cathy Wilson is sworn in as a Morris Township committeewoman, Jan. 3, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier

Wilson and fellow Democrat John Arvanites had campaigned to crack the all-Republican governing body, and the first night of two-party rule started in collegial fashion.

“These people will certainly add to our collective thinking and outreach,” said Committeeman Peter Mancuso, a Republican unanimously chosen by the governing body to double as mayor–a ceremonial role he has filled so many times that colleagues gave him “emeritus” status a few years ago.

The evening’s best line came from Committeeman Bruce Sisler, who handed off mayoral duties. He likened the position “to somebody who runs a cemetery. You got a lot of people under you, but nobody’s listening.”

Arvanites, a former mayor of Roseland, spoke movingly of growing up at his father’s coffee shop in Newark.

John Arvanites is sworn into the Morris Township committee, Jan. 3, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier
John Arvanites is sworn into the Morris Township committee, Jan. 3, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier

“I learned a lot from him about how to take care of people and to serve people and to listen to people. He told me to listen twice as much as you talk, because you may hear something and learn something if you listen,” said Arvanites, an accountant, promising to listen to residents.

Occasionally, he acknowledged, he also may have to correct constituents. Like his 6-year-old daughter Layna, who helped administer his oath of office.

“Oh Daddy, now you’re the ruler of Morris Township!'” she exclaimed after he won the election.

When the laughter subsided, Arvanites assured the crowd that he set Layna straight: “‘No, honey, I’m in service to Morris Township.’ And I truly believe that.”

John Arvanites remembers his father. Video by Bill Lescohier

PURPLE TOWNSHIP?

Democrats Jeff Grayzel and Ron Goldberg served on the Township committee several years ago. But Wilson and Arvanites are believed to be the first Democrats elected together–and their victory comes as voter registrations show the party closing the gap in what’s traditionally been a red municipality.

Peter Mancuso is sworn in for another stint as Morris Township mayor, Jan. 3, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Peter Mancuso is sworn in for another stint as Morris Township mayor, Jan. 3, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier

During last fall’s race, Wilson described the GOP campaign by then-incumbent Louise Johnson and running mate Nicole Saphier as “nasty” and “deceitful”; Saphier labeled Wilson a “nonsensical obstructionist.”

But Wilson had kind words for her former adversaries –Johnson was in the audience–at Wednesday’s reorganization.

“From my own experience, I have truly come to see that running for office, regardless of the outcome, is a form of public service that is vital to our democracy. Any of us who value the right to vote owe Louise and Nicole enormous gratitude and respect for their service,” said the retired educator, who chairs the Township Democratic organization.

Democracy depends on citizens getting involved, “especially now,” added Wilson, who quoted President Eisenhower and Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis on the subject.

She volunteers with Sustainable Morristown and is founder of the Friends of Televised Access in Morris Township, which posts videos of committee meetings.

Peter Mancuso reprises a familiar role: Mayor. Video by Bill Lescohier

On the campaign trail, Wilson said, voters stressed two desires: A mix of viewpoints in town hall, and a spirit of cooperation to benefit everyone.

A packed house for the Morris Township reorganization, Jan. 3, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier.
A packed house for the Morris Township reorganization, Jan. 3, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier.

“I’m fully committed to doing everything I can to make that happen. Two key ingredients I pledge to contribute include always striving to communicate in the spirit of mutual respect, and always working to really understand the views of others.

“Which includes what I call listening with your head and listening with your heart,” said Wilson, whose thank you’s included a shout-out to “her No.1 Republican fan,” her dad.

She cited the environment, transportation for seniors, and improving the Collinsville playground as priorities.

Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (red scarf) talks with his father, state Sen. Anthony Bucco, at Morris Township reorganization, Jan. 3, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier
Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (red scarf) talks with his father, state Sen. Anthony Bucco, at Morris Township reorganization, Jan. 3, 2018. Photo by Bill Lescohier

Mancuso assured the public that “fiscal responsibility” and superior services will continue.

Well-wishers included state Sen. Anthony Bucco and his son, Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (both R-25th Dist.), Morris Plains Mayor Frank Druetzler, and Democratic congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill.

Committeeman Matheu Nunn was named deputy mayor.

Morristown Green correspondent Bill Lescohier contributed to this report.

Bruce Sisler reflects on mayoral stint. Video by Bill Lescohier:

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