Candidates almost outnumber listeners at District 11 forum at Vail School

The audience for the Republican half of 11th District candidates forum, May 15, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
The audience for the Republican half of 11th District candidates forum, May 15, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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The 11th Congressional District has been a hotbed of political activism ever since the election of President Trump.

But you never would have known that on Tuesday, when candidates seeking to succeed retiring Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.) nearly outnumbered spectators at a League of Women Voters forum at the Alfred Vail School in Morris Township.

Democratic hopefuls Mitchell Cobert, Tamara Harris and Mark Washburne face a sea of chairs, May 15, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Democratic hopefuls Mitchell Cobert, Tamara Harris and Mark Washburne face a sea of chairs, May 15, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Okay, maybe warnings of severe thunderstorms, tornadoes and quarter-sized hailstones had something to do with that.

Or perhaps it was the absence of front-runners Mikie Sherrill (Democrat) and Assemblyman Jay Webber (Republican).

GOP candidate Patrick Allocco waves solicitations from special interest groups, May 15, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
GOP candidate Patrick Allocco waves solicitations from special interest groups, May 15, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The small turnout could have been a response to the similar stances of Democrats Mitchell Cobert, Tamara Harris and Mark Washburne, and Republicans Martin Hewitt and Patrick Allocco.

Mostly, they agreed on issues such as affordable healthcare (provide it), immigration (compassion trumps the Wall), the opioid crisis (treatment trumps incarceration), infrastructure (build the Gateway tunnel) and gun safety (yes to tougher laws, no to National Rifle Association campaign donations).

Or maybe the public was wise to the bland format, which had a moderator lobbing generic softballs such as: “How would you hold other legislators accountable?”

Whatever. The lonely campaigners soldiered on, politely citing their résumes as reasons to back them in the primary on June 5, 2018, for a Congressional bid in November.

Cobert, a Morristown attorney, pointed to his experience prosecuting securities fraud cases, and helping start a special court for drug offenders. Harris, a divorce counselor from Verona, noted her background in global finance and social work. Washburne, a Mendham resident, promised to bring his perspective as a history professor at the County College of Morris.

The Democrats restated themes they laid out at the same venue in February.

Hewitt, a former Democrat, is an attorney who recently moved into the 11th District, to a Morris Township apartment. He described himself as socially progressive and fiscally conservative.

He would have been hard-pressed to make his pitch to a packed house; he was battling laryngitis.

Allocco, of Denville, did not say much about his background. (Online, he lists a consulting gig with the New Jersey Lottery and a stint as a concert promoter, among other endeavors.)

Instead, he pledged to restore democracy via a website and mobile app enabling voters to see where every lawmaker stands on pending bills. Then they can cast their own votes on the measures–giving Allocco his cues in Congress.

KEEP IT DOWN, WILL YOU? Republican candidate Martin Hewitt makes a point, despite laryngitis. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
KEEP IT DOWN, WILL YOU? Republican candidate Martin Hewitt makes a point, despite laryngitis. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

The closest thing to a sharp statement came from Harris, who insisted she was “Democrat strong, not Republican lite.” (A dig at Hewitt? Sherrill?)

She also emphasized that she pays taxes in the district. (Unlike Sherrill, who entered the race as a Montclair resident, just beyond the boundary.)

There were light moments. How often do politicians invoke Richard Nixon as an inspiration? 

Hewitt did, praising Nixon’s creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. For good measure, the candidate also lauded Teddy Roosevelt, GOP icon and champion of our national parks.

Asked how she felt about collaborating with Republicans, Harris mentioned she once served with Rex Tillerson, President Trump’s short-lived Secretary of State, on the United Negro College Fund board.

Washburne, whose central platform plank is impeaching Trump, offered an interesting invocation of his own.

Stressing his progressive ideals, Washburn said he aimed to be “the next Woodrow Wilson…without the racist stuff.”

Also AWOL on Tuesday: Democratic candidate Alison Heslin of Morristown, and Republicans Antony Ghee of Totowa and Peter DeNeufville of Chatham Township.

The Democratic candidates were a slightly better draw, May 15, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
The Democratic candidates were a slightly better draw, May 15, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

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1 COMMENT

  1. I googled this event on the day of and could not even find it. That’s how poorly advertised it was. I don’t think it was interest level. Also, wasn’t there a Republican debate on the same night?

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