On historic night in Morris Township, Dems take control, pledging transparency, video, speed bumps…and pickleball, too

After 10 elections and three recounts stretching to the early 2000s, Jeff Grayzel finally sits in mayor's chair, at Morris Township reorganization, Jan. 2, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
After 10 elections and three recounts stretching to the early 2000s, Jeff Grayzel finally sat in mayor's chair, at Morris Township reorganization, Jan. 2, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

A standing-room-only crowd cheered on Wednesday as Democrats assumed government control for the first time and pledged transparency, speed bumps–and pickleball courts, too.

The spirit was upbeat, with flashes of humor.

Jeff Grayzel, sworn in for his third non-consecutive term on the Township Committee (another first), also was named mayor, achieving what seemed like an impossible dream when he started his political career in 2003 as a Democrat in a Republican bastion.

But his big moment–the culmination of 10 election tries and three recounts, by his count, over the last 16 years–had to wait a few minutes longer, for a scramble to locate a Bible for the official ceremony.

Video: Where’s the Bible?

Later, Committeeman John Arvanites noted how the entire elected leadership of neighboring Morristown was in attendance.

“The plan finally worked,” he quipped. “Morristown now belongs to Morris Township.”

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click / hover on images for captions:

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Grayzel said he intends to focus on improving communication with residents, curbing over-development, taming traffic and speeding (expect some experiments with speed bumps), and sharing services with area municipalities.

“Our goal is to set a new gold standard in the way a municipality communicates with its residents and seeks their input prior to making big decisions,” said Grayzel.

Video: Grayzel pledges transparency as Mayor:

Going forward, Township business will be explained more fully at monthly Committee meetings, he said, and information sessions will be scheduled periodically in the community.

A resident will be honored at each regular meeting; Grayzel rolled out the new feature by recognizing contributions of the Rev. Giles Hayes, an abbot at St. Mary’s Abbey who died last year.

Video: Morris Township honors the late Abbot Giles Hayes:

Additionally, Grayzel will serve on the planning board, where he aims to require developers to minimize traffic impacts of their projects. While acknowledging it’s a long shot, the mayor said he also will strive to reduce the density of developments under the Township’s court-approved affordable housing agreement.

Township Administrator Tim Quinn and Attorney John Mills III will stay, said Grayzel, who also praised the Committee’s lone remaining Republican, Peter Mancuso, and commended all but one of his former GOP Committee colleagues.

Recalling “harsh words” from then-Committeeman Scott Rosenbush at a past reorganization meeting, Grayzel called it “ironic and unfortunate that the person I learned the most from also chose to kick me when I was down after having lost my last election.”

He expressed hopes that Rosenbush “will be watching this meeting after it is posted to YouTube – thanks to the efforts of our new Deputy Mayor Cathy Wilson – so Scott too can hear the great things we have planned for our town in the coming year.”

Wilson and Arvenites led the Democratic charge in 2017, cracking what had been a 5-0 Republican Committee. With their victories in November 2018, Grayzel and Mark Gyorfy, a 27-year-old Township native, have given Democrats a 4-1 majority.

Determined to open up Township government, Wilson arranged a few years ago for videos of Committee meetings to be posted online. On Wednesday, she announced that links to these videos now will be available on the Township website.

“Clearly, this is a time of great change,” said Wilson, the Township’s past Democratic chairperson and a former social studies teacher. “The one change that I personally love the most is the amazing shift from apathy to engagement.”

Other changes include a new subcommittee on the environment and sustainability, she said. Recreational facilities also will be enhanced.

“Look for pickleball to become a ‘thing,'” Wilson said.

Video: Wilson promises video of meetings, and pickleball, too:

Gyorfy, a volunteer firefighter, was sworn in Wednesday by his former boss, Rep. Albio Sires (D-8th Dist.). The Committeeman’s fiancée, Kelly, held the Bible.

“I think we all agree on one thing: We want to ensure the success of Morris Township for years to come,” Gyorfy said.

Video: Gyorfy thanks voters and campaigners:

“We all share a commitment to serving 24,000 residents with unswerving dedication,” said Mancuso, a 17-year Committee veteran, adding he was pleased by preliminary talks with his new colleagues.

“Our objectives are similar. Understanding and compromise are vital to our success as a town, a state and a country,” Mancuso said.

Video: Mancuso stresses shared commitment:

Other dignitaries present Wednesday included state Sen. Anthony Bucco and state Assemblyman Anthony M. Bucco (both R-25th Dist.), new Morris Plains Mayor Jason Karr, elected officials from Mendham and Parsippany, and Morris County Democratic Chairman Chip Robinson, who administered the oath of office to Grayzel for his committee seat.

The year ahead will be challenging, cautioned Arvenites. While the Committee put politics aside last year to hold the line on taxes, he said, the state is shifting more costs to municipalities this year.

Video: Arvanites jokes about Township annexation of Morristown:

Morris Township is expected to shoulder higher pension expenses, and healthcare costs are rising. A collapsing market for recycled materials–China isn’t buying them from the U.S. anymore–means the Township now must pay for recycling that used to pay for itself, Arvenites said.

Sharing services with other towns could yield savings, Grayzel said. He also favors reviving a regional forum for tackling joint problems such as traffic. Mayors in Madison and Chatham are receptive, he said.

Chip Robinson, the Morris County Democratic chairman, grew up in the Township. His grin spanned practically the entire county after Grayzel adjourned his first meeting as mayor.

“I knew it would eventually happen,” Robinson said, referring to a Blue majority in his hometown. “But the fact that the moment is here is amazing.”

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