A decade ago, there were ten Republicans who dominated politics in their counties: Bill Gormley in Atlantic, Pat Schuber in Bergen, Glenn Paulsen in Burlington, James Treffinger in Essex, Robert Prunetti in Mercer, Harry Larrison in Monmouth, George Gilmore in Ocean, Peter Murphy in Passaic, Dale Florio in Somerset, and Donald DiFrancesco in Union. Today, Democrats have completely overtaken five of those counties, and the Republicans are now playing defense in the other five.
In 1997, Bergen Republicans controlled the County Executive post (Schuber won re-election in ’94), had a 7-0 majority of the Freeholder Board, and had GOP State Senators in districts 36, 38, 39 and 40. Democrats won the County Executive office when Schuber retired in 2002, and now hold all seven Freeholder seats; County Clerk Kathleen Donovan is the lone Republican elected countywide. And if Gerald Cardinale loses his bid for re-election, there would be no Republican State Senators from Bergen County for the first time since 1967.
Prunetti, who retired in 2003, and Treffinger, who was indicted in 2002, were replaced by Democratic County Executives. In county contests, the GOP is no longer competitive. (The two Republican Freeholders in Essex and the Republican County Clerk in Mercer are gone.) In Passaic, Murphy’s Republican domination of the Board of Freeholders went from 7-0 to 0-7; Passaic no longer has a Republican State Senator and County Clerk, powerful GOP Sheriff Edwin Englehardt is gone – replaced by powerful Democratic Sheriff Gerald Speziale.
In Atlantic, Gormley, the de facto GOP boss for twenty years, has retired. So has DiFrancesco, who as Senate President in the 1990’s helped finance Republicans in Union County.
Republicans are defending their control of county government in Atlantic and Monmouth this year, and trying to stop Democratic gains in Burlington (where Paulsen has now returned, albeit through his next door neighbor) and Somerset. And in Ocean County, where the GOP has no real problems at the county level, Gilmore is trying hard to pick up key mayoral posts in Toms River and Brick.