Morris County has long been one of the most strongly Republican counties in New Jersey. But, the unity behind one party doesn’t mean that the primaries in Morris go smoothly. More often than not, the primaries are rife with struggle as two or more differing groups of Republicans battle to become the GOP nominees.
This year is no different.
In one corner this year sit incumbent freeholders Douglas Cabana, Tom Mastrangelo and Kathy DeFillippo (Team Morris). In another corner sit challengers Louis Valori, Roman Hirniak and Peter King (Morris United). Running without a slate is former freeholder John Krickus.
According to Morris United, the challengers entered the race in order to bring more efficient government and end “Democratic infiltration or cronyism” in the county. According to Krickus, he wants to reclaim the spot he lost during a messy primary battle last year. According to the incumbents, they have the support of leaders throughout the county and should be able to continue the work they have been doing since they were first elected.
In order to understand much of the strife that sits in the background of this year’s June GOP primary, one has to look back a year to the same point during the 2015 election cycle.
Last year, freeholder John Cesaro broke from the ranks of the Cesaro-Krickus-Scapicchio ticket he had run on in 2012. That move hung Krickus (and former freeholder David Scapicchio) out to dry and led to the loss in 2015.
In 2015, the Republican primary ticket ended up being split after Election Day with Cesaro, his running mate Christine Myer and Krickus’s running mate Deborah Smith winning the election. This year, a similar outcome could happen, especially with the large number of candidates duking it out in the primary. Last year, incumbency proved to not be much of a benefit, something that could happen again this election.
While last year Morris County Republican chairman John Sette opted to back Krickus’ ticket, this year the chairman has been more reserved ahead of the primary. To date, he has yet to endorse any candidate or slate over the other for the 2016 race. The lack of endorsement has also been noted from the likes of state Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-26) who last year backed the Cesaro ticket. Both state Senator Anthony Bucco and his son Assemblyman Anthony Bucco (R-25) backed Krickus’ slate last year but have also stayed quiet this year.
However, the lack of endorsement has not managed to halt to sowing of discord in the Morris County GOP freeholder primary.
Back when Morris United first announced their candidacy in March, they quickly followed up their kickoff event with a claim that Mastrangelo had enlisted his son to film the event. While Mastrangelo denied that he knew about the filming, the allegation that his son was caught filming was confirmed.
In April, after Krickus announced he would be entering the race, Morris United alleged that he had only done so in order to “play defense” for Mastrangelo’s team. Krickus denied those claims.
One particular factor that makes the clash between the two slates most interesting this year is the fact that legal action is currently underway between the two groups. In April, Mastrangelo, filed criminal complaints against Team Morris and their campaign manager Steve Kush. Those complaints allege that Morris United publicly disclosed expunged information from the freeholder’s past. In early May, both King and Valori filed counter-charges against Mastrangelo for “false swearing.” Both challengers said that they did not know the records had been expunged and that Mastrangelo’s claims that the information was knowingly disseminated are false.
In mid-May Krickus blasted Team Morris for claims made during a debate. Krickus said that DeFillippo accused King of having “punched out a law partner.” King denied those claims. Team Morris claimed that Krickus’ calls for an apology for King were an attempt to divert attention away from the larger issues at hand.
Another factor on the Republican side comes along with the also contested Republican primary for Morris County Sheriff. In February, veteran Morris County Sheriff Ed Rochford announced that he would not be seeking re-election this year. Rochford then threw his support behind candidate John Sierchio. However, Sierchio’s opponent Jim Gannon has gotten the endorsement of the majority of the Morris County Freeholder Board, including the incumbents running for reelection. Morris United appears to have aligned with Sierchio (Valori and Hirniak were both present at his kick-off event).
Morris United has also made claims that Team Morris has tampered with their campaign signs.
Team Morris’s most recent joint ELEC filing—filed on May 9—shows that the incumbents have raised slightly over $35,000 to date. The group has received a $500 donation from the campaign of Congressman Leonard Lance of CD7. Lance is also pursuing reelection this year. Morris United’s joint ELEC report shows that the challengers have raised slightly more than $20,000. Krickus has raised $16,819 (including a $5,000 loan he gave himself).
Whichever Republicans come out ahead in the June 7 primary will move on to face the Democrats nominated. Currently, five Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination including the slate of Mitch Horn of Montville, Rozella Clyde of Chatham Borough and John Von Achen of Parsippany, supported by the county committee. The Democratic slate is facing two candidates associated with the presidential campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders: Carl Fenske of Morristown and Charles Bogusat of Rockaway.