Morris Township Democrats on Tuesday chose a battle-hardened campaigner and a political newcomer to make an historic bid to wrest control of the Township Committee from the GOP this fall.
Jeff Grayzel, who has served twice on the Committee and is running for the 10th time since 2003, will be campaigning with Mark Gyorfy — his opponent in the Democratic primary.
They’ll face incumbent Bruce Sisler and former Committeeman Joseph Calvanelli Jr., who ran unopposed in Tuesday’s Republican primary, for a pair of three, three-year seats.
Republicans hold a 3-2 majority on a governing body that never has known Democratic control, according to local officials.
For Grayzel, it was a particularly gratifying day. He was the Democrats’ top vote-getter (1,206, unofficially), even though the local Democratic organization did not give him the coveted party line on the ballot. Voters had to make a little effort to find him and his running mate, Tara Olivo-Moore (fourth with 1,101 votes).
Gyorfy (1,184 votes) and his running mate Dan Falkner (1,154) shared the party’s endorsement for the primary.
“I wanted to get back in it to finish what I started,” said Grayzel, whose political involvement was sidelined for the last two years as he recuperated from being struck by an SUV in Morristown.
“I got involved not for party politics, but because I felt unrepresented. I put myself out there to represent the unrepresented. Now I get to complete the job,” said Grayzel, president of G3 Medical Development.
Gyorfy, who works in the financial industry, was raised in the Township and is a volunteer fireman.
Although clearly disappointed that Falkner won’t be running with him come autumn, Gyorfy said he and Grayzel will “put up a good fight” and bring “open, transparent government” to the municipality.
“We need it,” said Gyorfy, a former staffer for Rep. Albio Sires (D-8th Dist.) “The Township government has been working behind closed doors. We need a Committee that’s finally going to be pro-active, that solicits public input rather than shunning it.”
Both candidates were critical of how the Committee presented affordable housing plans to the public. Residents who packed Township meetings last month said they felt the complex plans were foisted upon them at the last minute.
Falkner and Olivo-Moore each expressed intentions to remain active in politics. The last few days have been especially stressful for Falkner.
His wife spent nearly a week in the hospital with a ruptured appendix.
The former Navy officer started choking up as he thanked Gyorfy and others in the campaign for helping himself, his wife and their 4-year-old son get through the ordeal.
Grayzel and Olivo-Moore entered the race right before the filing deadline, adding drama to a local party convention that often struggles to find any candidates to nominate.
Having choices for a change is a good problem to have, insisted party Chairwoman Cathy Wilson, who won her own Committee seat last fall after several tries.
Grayzel said he thinks new arrivals to the Township’s Democratic organization may have been unfamiliar with his history–which includes three grueling recounts and a court-ordered special election in 2007. He was a Committeeman from 2007-2009 and again from 2011-2014.
“To be able to win off the party line is a huge feat. But I have such deep roots in Morris Township that people were willing to look for me in Column Three to put me in first place,” said Grayzel.
He was accompanied by his 14-year-old son Alexander at a celebration in Morristown’s South Street Social tavern, where Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty and his wife, Morris County Freeholder candidate Mary Dougherty, pledged their support.
Grayzel said he looks forward to campaigning with Gyorfy.
“Winning a general election requires roots in the community. Mark and I are two guys that have it. We know a lot of people,” Grayzel said.
November will be a re-match of sorts for him. In 2006, Grayzel lost a recount to Calvanelli by a single vote. Months later, in 2007, he ousted the Republican in a court-ordered special election.