Tuesday had all the makings of a sleepy off-year primary. With no presidents or governors topping the ballot, turnout was predictably low–less than 11 percent for Morris County.
But Morristown made some news: Political newcomer Tawanna Cotten appears to have unseated Democratic Councilwoman Hiliari Davis in the Second Ward.
Republican Councilwoman Alison Deeb, who in April said she would not seek a fourth term in the Fourth Ward because politics are too “mean,” changed her mind Tuesday after receiving what looked like enough write-in votes to place her on the November ballot.
She’ll face two challengers: Democrat Sandi Mayer, and Independent James Sullivan Jr. — who until recently was the town’s GOP chairman.
In the Third Ward, Democratic Councilman Stefan Armington easily fended off a primary challenge from Steve Pylypchuk of the town environmental commission. When Armington runs for a third term in the fall, he’ll face another challenger —Lorena Inestroza, an Independent.
A quick recap of other contests: In a four-way Republican primary race for two Assembly seats in District 25, incumbent Anthony M. Bucco breezed to victory, and Brian Bergen won the other slot vacated by Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, who lost his bid to run for Morris County Surrogate to Morris Freeholder Heather Darling by about 200 votes.
Bucco and Bergen defeated Aura Kenny Dunn and John Barbarula, and will square off in November against Democrats Lisa Bhimani and Darcy Draeger.
In a six-way GOP scrum for three Morris County Freeholder seats, incumbents Kathy DeFillippo, Doug Cabana and Thomas Mastrangelo (in that vote order) trounced Catherine Winterfield, Donald Dinsmore and William Felegi.
In the general election, the Democrats will field a Freeholder slate of Cara Parmigani, Cary Amaro and David Timpanaro.
“It’s unreal!” Tawanna Cotten said at a victory party at the Revolution bar. Unofficial results compiled by the Morris County Clerk’s Office showed her with a 14-vote win over Hiliari Davis, who had intended to seek a second term this fall in Morristown’s Second Ward.
Davis held out slim hopes that mail ballots might reverse the primary outcome.
Cotten, a 45- year-old assistant behavioral specialist for the Morris School District, said she eked out her win with “old fashioned campaigning,” knocking on doors, leaving notes on windshields, and so forth.
Second Ward residents want better communication from town hall, Cotten asserted. They also are concerned about speeding drivers cutting through their neighborhoods, and other safety issues, she said.
They want action, Cotten said. “Residents don’t want to hear that (a traffic) assessment has been done.”
Davis, 43, said she was proud of her work with Mayor Tim Dougherty to beautify the Second Ward, and to bring more affordable housing to town. She also said she was proud of her opponent, and pledged a smooth transition.
“She was out there every day” campaigning, Davis said of Cotten. The challenge for the newcomer, who faces no declared opponent in November, will be remembering that she represents the entire ward, not just public housing residents, Davis said.
Cotten recently was named president of the Morristown Housing Authority’s Resident Council.
Asked if a parking lot altercation last year hurt her re-election campaign, Davis replied: “Not at all… that had no impact on how I handle my business with the council. I handle my business professionally.”
What has Davis learned from her term in office?
“It’s not easy to get things done. It takes a cooperative effort. You have good ideas. It’s hard to get it done,” she said.
At the Morris County Democratic headquarters, Councilman Stefan Armington expressed gratitude for constituents “putting their faith in me once again.” Opponent Steve Pylypchuck ran a good campaign, Armington added, wishing him well.
Pylypchuk said his first bid for office left him with a newfound respect for elected officials. “It’s a lot of work, hard work,” he said.
Lorena Inestroza’s family has called Morristown home for seven generations. She lives in seniors public housing on Early Street and said nobody there can remember any visits by Armington, their councilman.
Inestroza, who works with several groups that combat substance abuse, said drug dealers hang out in her building, where two seniors died of overdoses. She’s also concerned about how public housing vacancies are filled, and about afternoon traffic from nearby Morristown High School.
For Deeb, this marks the second time she will land on a November ballot thanks to primary write-in votes (23 this time, by her count).
In an April e-blast, Deeb cited America’s corrosive political atmosphere and the death of her father among her reasons for stepping down after three terms. But responses from more than 100 constituents convinced her to reconsider, she said.
If elected a fourth time, Deeb said, she will push for smaller government and more shared services with neighboring communities.
In that same April message, Deeb angrily singled out a friend for signing Democrat Sandi Mayer’s petition to run for council. A couple of constituents objected to Deeb “outing” neighbors in that fashion, Deeb said.
Yet the councilwoman defended her action. Signing a petition is a public act, she said.
“If you don’t want to be named or shamed, stay neutral.”
Sullivan, a lawyer whose prior council bid fell short in 2017, slammed Deeb’s e-blast as “completely unacceptable. That kind of immaturity and temper tantrum has no place on the town council,” he said Tuesday.
The former town Republican chairman said he chose to run as Independent because the “national party politics of division have no place at the local level.”
If elected in November, Sullivan, 39, said he would lobby for tax incentives for historic preservation, while trying to improve relations between town hall and local businesses. Revolution owner Jimmy Cavanaugh, who attended the celebration that included Cotten, Sullivan and Inestroza, is embroiled in litigation with the town on several fronts.
Sandi Mayer, 57, is the Democrats’ candidate in the Fourth Ward. Her vision is to tackle small problems first: Illegal dumping of yard wastes at Foote’s Pond, crumbling sidewalks, better signage at school bus stops.
“When you solve the smaller issues, bigger issues will follow,” said the longtime Parsons Village resident, a bookkeeper and member of the town Shade Tree Commission. She asserted she’s never seen Deeb set foot inside her neighborhood.
In the First Ward, Republican Councilman Robert Iannaccone will seek re-election this fall as an Independent. He will face Democrat Oliver Starnes.