Undeniably bloody, the Morris County Freeholder contest features a trio of Republican incumbents that split apart and formed two warring countywide factions as they seek reelection to three-year terms. On one side stand incumbents David Scapicchio and John Krickus running with Denville Councilwoman Deb Smith. On the other side stands incumbent Freeholder John Cesaro running with firefighter Angelo Tedesco and Mendham Township businesswoman Christine Myers. Three years ago, Cesaro was the top vote getter on the ticket (94,379) followed by Krickus (93,711) and Scapicchio (92,828).
Now Cesaro wants to wipe out his former running mates.
How did their relationship turn so sour?
Sources close to the principals say part of it has something to do with Freeholder Tom Mastrangelo, who’s not on the ballot this year, but who does not get along with Cesaro.
Cesaro’s worry about Mastrangelo’s hand in the movements of his two prior running mates propelled him to create his own slate.
There’s no line in Morris County, so it’s not like Hudson where dreaded enemies are forced to embrace one another come Election time for the sake of occupying the line.
Dreaded enemies here find a way to run against either each other or their surrogates.
But beyond the personalities and the curious issue of an inherited solar settlement favored by Gov. Chris Christie that Spapicchio and Krickus didn’t vote for but that Cesaro did, there is arguably no other race in this cycle that epitomizes current campaign trends like this one. At its core, two or more independent expenditure political action committees at the county and local level in Parsippany affiliated with labor and Democrats have thrown in with Cesaro’s team.
That has given Krickus and Scapicchio ammunition to identify their opposition as a trio of pawns backed by Democrats and labor. Cesaro has countered with the argument that nearly every significant Republican official in Morris, including state Senators Tony Bucco and Joe Pennacchio – gets money from labor. He also argues that his rivals once considered rolling out the red carpet for Paterson Police Director Jerry Speziale – a Democrat and Mastrangelo affiliate – to realign county policing, only to now discover old time GOP religion during election season.
Cesaro’s allies are gambling, too, that the damage they sustain from their rivals in Republican insider circles – incessant whispering about the presence of the PACs – will be offset on Election Day with raw muscle, in the form of bodies and organization. Whatever pain Team Cesaro suffers owing to the association of labor with their cause, they will make up for when labor mobilizes on the day in question come June 2nd. So runs their argument.
Krickus has described paid ragtag PAC forces dragging through Morris County looking out of place and ineffectual. He’s fairly convinced the PAC attack will badly backfire on his former running mate.
George Norcross III told someone earlier this month that we are now “living in an IE world,” a world in which independent expenditure PACs can override and swamp with sheer cash influx those conventional means of campaign war like party organizations and regional insider alliances. To the extent that the PAC money dominates what Krickus/Scapecchio/Smith summon for their cause, this contest could prove a testing ground for future incursions and a lab rat for the strategy that what a team loses by virtue of association, it can make up for by virtue of force.
Some other dynamics to consider…
It’s mostly unspoken, but by virtue of Mastrangelo’s closeness to the Krickus/Scapecchio team and Bucco’s close ties to Mastraneglo, a win by Krickus and company could be read as a win for Bucco., long the reigning kingpin of the county GOP. A win by Cesaro and his team would go in the win column of Pennacchio, who publicly backs only Cesaro among the candidates seeking county office.
The winners of this bloody primary would all three have to be considered as future contenders for assembly seats, especially if the county erupts into a civil war come 2017 if Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, for example, finds herself in a primary with the likes of Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick or Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli.
Finally, veteran Morris County Republican Chairman John Sette – who has endorsed the incumbents despite their split ticket contortions – will find himself questioned and criticized in the aftermath of this contest. Putting down past dissections of organization weakness, Sette has long argued for the freedom and independence of the party. Will that argument work this time?