Tuesday was a big day for Morris Township Democrats, who won control of the Township Committee for the first time in memory with resounding victories by Jeff Grayzel and Mark Gyorfy.
History also was made in Morris Plains. After 32 years with a Republican mayor, borough voters opted to try a Democrat–Jason Karr, a councilman who will succeed Mayor Frank Druetzler, who is retiring.
Elsewhere in Greater Morristown, Vij Pawar, Morristown’s town attorney, garnered 60 percent of the vote to defeat John Creamer for a Morristown seat on the regional Morris School District board.
In a three-way contest for two Morris Township seats on that same board, Ann Rhines won her sixth term by a wide margin. Linda Murphy also was elected; Alan L. Smith fell short.
The Morris Plains Board of Education had a four-way race for three seats. Diane Del Russo, Lucia Galdi and Amy Lyons are in; Kenneth J. Wilbur missed by around 42 votes.
HEALTHY TURNOUT; COUNTY AND STATE RACES
Turnout for this mid-term election was a robust 52 percent, according to the office of Morris County Clerk Ann Grossi.
Grossi, a Republican from Parsippany, handily held off Democrat Shala Gagliardi to win re-election for a five-year term.
The GOP Freeholder slate of incumbent Deborah Smith of Denville, John Krickus of Long Valley and Stephen H. Shaw of Mountain Lakes prevailed over Democrats Mary Dougherty of Morristown, Richard Corcoran of Boonton and Rupande Mehta of Denville
Republican Bob Hugin beat Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) in Morris County by roughly the same margin that he lost, statewide, to the embattled lawmaker.
But Democratic Congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill bested Republican Jay Webber of Morris Plains by about 9 points in Morris County’s portion of District 11. Sherrill’s margin across the entire District (parts of Morris, Essex, Passaic and Sussex counties) was a bit higher.
Sherrill will succeed retiring Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a Republican fixture in Congress for 24 years.
Democrats will hold a 4-1 majority on Morris Township’s governing body, thanks to the G-men, Grayzel and Gyorfy, who dispatched three-term GOP incumbent Bruce Sisler and his running mate, Joe Calvanelli Jr.
“We’re going to put residents first in Morris Township… because we think residents have been neglected for a long time. You’ll see a new kind of Morris Township in 2019,” said Grayzel, who has run nine times since 2003. This will be his third non-consecutive term.
It was the first campaign for Gyorfy, who is just 26.
“People were tired of not knowing what was going on in town hall,” Gyrofy said at a victory party at The Social pub in Morristown.
Video: Morris Township Dems celebrate historic victory:
Sisler, who is chief of staff for state Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (R-25th Dist.), could not be reached for comment on Tuesday evening.
Grayzel’s win also marked the second time he has beaten Calvanelli. A decade ago, Calvanelli narrowly defeated Grayzel–and then lost after a recount and special election.
Democrats got a double shot of confidence last year when the party won two seats on the Committee. This generated sufficient interest for a contested Democratic primary in June.
Once solidly red, the Township has morphed to purple, as registered Democrats have closed the gap with GOP voters.
During this race, Republicans stressed years of stable taxes. Grayzel accused the GOP of cutting “back room deals” with builders and springing development plans on the public with scant notice. His newsletter publicizing Committee proposals has gained a large following.
Gyorfy, a volunteer fireman for a decade, said Township government should emulate the responsiveness of its firefighters.
Sisler has contended the Township deploys social media adroitly to communicate with residents. At a candidates’ forum last month, he urged caution when considering adding costly sidewalks and sharing services with neighboring towns–initiatives favored by the Democrats.
The Republicans also differed sharply with their opponents over immigration policy. Sisler defended the Committee’s rejection of a “Fair and Welcoming” policy similar to one adopted by Morristown, saying legal protections for immigrants already exist.
While supporting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, Calvanelli suggested “Sanctuary Cities” invite gangs–which he said exist in neighboring communities that he did not name.
In Morris Plains, longtime resident Jason Karr, a Democrat, defeated fellow Councilman Sal Cortese, a Republican, for mayor by a 52-48 percent difference.
Republicans Cathie Kelly and Dennis Wagner won borough council seats, however, defeating Democrats Christina “Tina” Genest and Jessica Prater.
Morris School District
Contested races used to be fairly rare in the regional Morris School District, which encompasses Morristown, Morris Township and (for high school) Morris Plains.
Contentious ones were even rarer.
Sparks flew at a candidates forum last month when John Creamer suggested Vij Pawar might have conflicts on the school board, because of his job as the town’s municipal attorney.
The town and school district each have budgets that impact property taxes, after all. Creamer criticized the town for allowing some developers to skip paying school taxes altogether.
Pawar, who was endorsed by Mayor Tim Dougherty, insisted he had “skin in the game” as the father of two young children in the district.
Moreover, as an immigrant from India, Pawar said he would bring diversity to the board. He also vowed not to become a “rubber stamp” for District Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast–whose leadership Creamer praised.
“I represent the residents of Morristown. They elected me. I’m going to work to make ssure their interests are represented,” Pawar said at Tuesday’s victory party.
He reiterated he is not an elected official in the town government, but would recuse himself from board votes “under very limited circumstances.”