In Monmouth County, every town comes intriguingly into play on some level, several more critically than others.
Republicans have owned the Freeholder Board for over 20 years, but in the last two elections Democrats picked up two seats to bring them to within one of county control.
A profusion of newly registered Democratic voters have boosted the party’s confidence heading into Nov. 4th, and now Democrats Amy Mallet and Glenn Mason are ready for that 11th hour jolt of cash from the Democratic State Committee.
State Party Chairman Joseph Cryan wants to win here.
He wants it more than he would like to pick up additional warm bodies in the Assembly next year, where his party’s already built a comfortable majority.
A victory by either Mallet or Mason wouldmake a Democratic Party statement. But neither is a name candidate running against incumbent Freeholder Director Lillian Burry and auto dealer vice president John Curley, an intensely focused campaigner who served as a Red Bank Councilman and has close political connections to state Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth).
A Curley win would have particular ramifications in the party, for although he brands himself an independent-minded Republican, Curley’s alliance with Beck going back years now means the rising Republican star in the state senate would inevitably strengthen her leadership role inMonmouth County.
Both Burry and Curley picked up the prized endorsement of the Asbury Park Press last week.
Meanwhile, the battles go down in the smaller towns, like Matawan – where Beck lieutenant Tom Fitzsimmons, who engineeredthe senator's2007 win over incumbent Ellen Karcher, is running a stepped-up Republican campaign for borough council.
On a late Saturday afternoon, Fitzsimmons and his running mate, Joseph Urbano, walk in a neighborhood on the western side of Route 34 with GOP Mayor Paul Buccellato, who upset Democratic Mayor Mary Aufseeser in a runoff election earlier this year.
Fitzsimmons and Urbano wantto oust Aufseeser allies Councilman Robert Bunyon and Councilman William Malley, both Democrats.
“We’re up at $17,000 a year and counting,” says a resident, emerging from behind the front door of a MacMansion, when the Republican candidates ask her about property taxes.
“They’re over half a million dollars in deficit,” Fitzsimmons says of the 5-2 Democratic-controlled council. “That in and of itself is outrageous, but then they’re going to come back next year and ask for more. We want to be good stewards of your money.”
Tired of beating his head against a wall of Democrats, Buccellato wants to build a Republican majority here in this town of roughly 10,000 residents.
That's why he's out here walking with these two men.
“At Matawan’s level, it’s the budget and it’s accountability – those are the issues,”’ says the mayor, an architect who moved here over 20 years ago.
As candidates wage town by town fights that feed into the overall rivalry, at leastsix other municipalities provide prime battleground fodder.
As Middletown goes so goes Monmouth, and with that in mind the GOP is laying down a barrage to prevent former School Board President Pat Walsh from grabbing a seat on the Township Committee in the county’s biggest municipality.
If Walsh or her lesser known running mate, Jim Grenafege, wins in their matchup with Republican Deputy Mayor Pam Brightbill and newcomer Tony Fiore, control of the governing body would swing in favor of the Democrats.
Depending on the results of the presidential and freeholder elections, a Walsh win could also show acrumbling GOP effect.
But it’s a tough race for Walsh.
The Republicans have kept her occupied with a steady diet of attacks, including forcing her to answer for an unreported $30,000 loan she received, and keeping fresh in the right neighborhood her “aye” vote on an imposing cellular telephone tower, among other items.
This is also state Sen. Joseph Kyrillos’ (R-Monmouth) hometown, and the dean of state legislators in Monmouth County doesn’t want to show weakness by eating a loss – to Walsh, no less, whom his running mates, Assemblywoman Amy Handlin and Assemblyman Sam Thompson already beat last year when Walsh challenged them.
Wall Township presents another interesting dynamic where Democratic Mayor John Devlin is running for re-election in the hometown of state Sen. Sean Kean (R-Monmouth), a vocal Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) surrogate whose allies are manning McCain for President operations here in the southeastern part of the county.
An impassioned supporter of the Arizona senator’s going back to the Republican’s first presidential bid in 2000, the popular Kean wants to make a statement here for his candidate, even as Devlin needs to drive party votes to reclaim his mayor’s seat.
Keep an eye, too, on Marlboro, the biggest municipality in the 12th Legislative District, where emerging Democratic Party star Mayor Jonathan Hornik has campaigned and fundraised for Mallet and Mason. If their numbers are good there, Hornik, in office a year, can claim some credit.
Finally,Democrats say Asbury Park, Neptune and Long Branch – where homegrown productU.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch) is seeking easy re-election – all come into critical play this year.
Strong volunteer efforts on behalf of presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Il.) could produce coattails for the Democratic freeholder candidates, orhelp counterbalance vigorous efforts on behalf of McCain elsewhere in the county, to at least propel an Obama victory.