Sensing opportunity, Schaffer tears into Somerset

MARTINSVILLE – It looks like a joke at first or at least an appropriate back burner relegation for the Somerset County Democratic Party, which sits under a pizza parlor facing away from the road.

They don’t dominate here, haven’t for years, and that’s an understatement, but the little storefront plastered over with Democratic Party campaign signs belies the internal workings of what new party chair Peg Schaffer sees as a movement.

“I forgot how to practice law,” says Schaffer, sporting a “McBush” button and gulping coffee as she surveys headquarters where two dozen campaign workers stay on the phones.

Forget about the day job. Now it’s all party organizing. Or at least it seems that way to Schaffer, who took charge of the Somerset Democrats earlier this year.

“We used to have informal meetings in Mannion’s and now our party meetings are like boardroom functions,” says the chair, who grew up old school in Union County. At her side stands party vice chair Zenon Christodoulou.

Young and old work the phones. Union workers and volunteers. Coordinated campaign soldiers. Crews come and go with walking packets. Deposed last year as mayor of Manville, Democrat Angelo Corradino wants to know where the troops were last year.

A lot of them came on board to vote in the Feb. 5th Democratic Primary.

“For the first time, we have more Democrats in Somerset than Republicans,” says Schaffer. “We have the numbers. Now it’s all GOTV.”

Of course, she’s betting that Democrats can spear what they believe is the Republicans’ soft underbelly of undeclared voters in Somerset and in a presidential election year when Sen. Barack Obama (D-Il.) is generating excitement in New Jersey, swing those independents into her party’s column.

Maybe coattail their two freeholder candidates.

“What we have are people motivated by and passionate about ideas, not money and, no, not political patronage,” says Christodoulou.

They raised $50,000 at a party dinner last week.

In the center of the action, Schaffer’s cellphone keeps ringing and she answers and talks to field workers in between working the constantly working room.

Sensing opportunity, Schaffer tears into Somerset