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 now govern six of those counties, and the Republicans are now playing defense in three others.
In 1999, Bergen Republicans controlled the County Executive post (Schuber won re-election in ’98), had a majority on the Freeholder Board, and had GOP State Senators in districts 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 Gerald Cardinale is the lone Republican Senator from Bergen County.
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.
Republicans lost control of the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders in 2008. In Burlington, the GOP majority has shrunk from 5-0 to 3-2, and Democrats now occupy the County Clerk and Surrogate posts. And Democrats won a Burlington-based congressional seat the GOP had held since 1884 and by a Burlington County Republican since 1970.
In Atlantic, where Republicans still control county government, 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, where the GOP hasn’t won a countywide race since 1995.
Under Gilmore, Ocean County Republicans have actually enhanced their position – Democratic mayors in Toms River and Brick have been replaced by Republicans.