Two different factions of Morris County’s Republican Party are hoping to win the June 7 open primary for the three freeholder seats up for election this November. On one side are incumbent freeholders Tom Mastrangelo, Doug Cabana and Kathy DeFillippo, running as Team Morris. On the other side are Parsippany Councilman Lou Valori, Peter King and Randolph Mayor Roman Hirniak, running as Morris United.
Sources in Morris County are saying that the race is poised to be a contentious one. Mastrangelo and freeholder John Cesaro (who won reelection last year) have a long-standing and highly contentious relationship. Sources are saying that the personal disdain between the two has led to a decline in the effectiveness of Morris County’s government, something that created a power vacuum for challengers like Morris United to come in. Rumors are swirling about who will endorse which slate with many saying that Cesaro and ally Senator Joe Pennacchio will back the newcomers. Others are claiming that Senator Tony Bucco will back the incumbent slate.
According to Morris United spokesperson Steve Kush, any rumors that the insurgent team was the brainchild of Cesaro or Pennachio to get foe Mastrangelo off the board are plainly false.
“These are guys that know each other and decided to run together,” Kush said. “The conspiracy theories that certain people are out to get certain other people are nothing but that: conspiracy theories.”
Kush said that Morris United’s decision to run stems from what they see as ineffective leadership on the county level.
“Bottom line is that these guys are a reform team,” Kush said. “They see and hear things from others around the county that they are not happy about. There are a large number of people that don’t like it.”
Morris United’s Valori said that his team’s decision to pursue the election has to do with much more than just a divided freeholder board and Morris County Republican Party.
“We were not recruited as part of any battle between other elected officials in the county. We decided to run together as a team because we hear from others throughout the county that they are not happy with the way things are done,” Valori said. Valori also said that his team takes issue with “strong-arm” tactics employed by Mastrangelo and not discouraged by his runningmates. Yesterday, his team issued a press release accusing Mastrangelo of sending his son to film their campaign kickoff event.
Mastrangelo’s close ties with Bucco put another wrinkle in the freeholder race. While Bucco has yet to endorse Mastrangelo’s team, there is speculation that he might do so. However, because the Morris County Republican primary is open, one source said that it is likely many elected officials like Bucco will keep their heads down until after the candidates who will face the Democrats in the November election are determined.
Senator Joe Pennacchio said that he “was keeping a close eye” on the Republican freeholder race but was “withholding any judgment” for now.
“I want to see how the issues play out,” Pennacchio said. “I want to see what the issues are for one group versus the other.”
While Pennacchio said that he is not weighing in on the race, he said that his major concern when looking at the freeholder race is how the county is being run.
“I think one of the issues is going to be openness and transparency,” he said. “I want to see how both sides feel about that.”
Pennacchio also weighed in on how he believes that the influence of Cesaro and Mastrangelo’s relationship is overblown.
“It is not just one versus one,” he said. “You have to take a look at the entire board in total. To think that just John versus Tom, I am beyond that. That is just not important to me.”
Morris County Republican Chairman John Sette also said that he was withholding judgment on the upcoming Republican primary.
“We have an open primary and there are three seats available,” Sette said. “We have six people running. I know them all personally and they are all good people. It is up to the people of Morris County to determine who will be their freeholders next year.”
According to Sette, the party is currently neutral.
PolitickerNJ reached Mastrangelo but he did not respond with a comment by press time.