Jeff Grayzel is not afraid of uphill battles.
Last year, he became Morris Township’s first Democratic mayor. He’s the only Democrat elected three times to the Township committee–three separate times–over a political career that has included 10 campaigns and three recounts.
Now, Grayzel is setting his sights on unseating state Sen. Anthony M. Bucco, to become the first Democrat to represent the 25th District in nearly three decades.
“New Jersey has hot a lot of problems to solve, and I’m a problem-solver,” Grayzel said on Monday, asserting it’s time to put aside “petty politics” in Trenton.
If he wins the Democratic primary in June, he’s likely to face Bucco, a Republican from Mountain Lakes, in the November general election.
The lawyer and long-serving Assemblyman was chosen last fall by GOP leaders to succeed his father, state Sen. Tony Bucco, who died in September.
November’s election is for the remaining year of the late Tony Bucco’s Senate term. Next year, another election will be held for the full term four-year term. Except, it won’t be full. Another election is scheduled for 2023, to reflect new district boundaries expected to follow the 2020 U.S. Census, according to Grayzel.
“That’s three elections in four years…I’m going to be a busy guy,” said Grayzel, 56.
Other Democrats who plan to run in the state Senate primary include Denville resident Rupande Mehta, a former council- and Morris County Freeholder candidate; and Cliff Dawkins, an attorney from Rockaway Borough who ran for council there.
An endorsement will come from Morris Democrats at a party convention on March 30, 2020, said county Democratic Chairman Chip Robinson.
Democrats will need to raise $1 million to topple Bucco, and cut through the “hoopla” of an election year with a President, a Senator and a Congresswoman atop the ticket, Robinson said.
“It used to be a Republican District,” Robinson said. “But now it’s really a purple district. We think we have a decent shot.”
A spokesman for the Bucco campaign said the last thing the state needs is another Democrat in Trenton:
“Now more than ever we need checks and balances in Trenton, not another vote for higher taxes and more government overreach. Voters agreed with that clear message just over two months ago. Senator Bucco’s only focus right now is on the important work to protect taxpayers and make New Jersey more affordable.”
STRIVING FOR ‘WIN-WIN RESULTS’
Citing flat taxes and improved services in Morris Township, Grayzel said his focus in Trenton would be holding the line on taxes, controlling development and protecting the environment.
He said he would apply his engineering background to tackle problems with traffic and recycling, and to run government more efficiently.
“We’re very inefficient in the state. It’s one of the reasons taxes are so high,” Grayzel said, pledging to work towards “win-win results.”
“I have taken this approach throughout my career in both politics and the private sector,” he said.
Grayzel holds degrees in economics and operations research from Cornell University, with a master’s in industrial engineering from Columbia. After working at Bristol-Myers Squibb in system design, marketing, and international business development, he became president of a private medical device development company.
He is not one to give up easily. One of his three recounts resulted in a judge ordering a new election–which Grayzel won.
Republicans controlled all five seats on the Township committee up until a couple of years ago. Democrats now occupy four of those seats–and the last seat is being contested in court.
The 25th District encompasses 20 municipalities in Morris County–including Morris Township and Morristown–and Bernardsville in Somerset County. Long considered a Republican bastion, the district still leans toward the GOP but the number of registered Democrats has closed to within a few percentage points.
Gordon MacInnes of Morris Township was the last Democrat to represent the 25th District, serving one term from 1993-97.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include comments from the Bucco campaign.