By John Burton
HAZLET – The old Chinese expression “May you live in interesting times” is certainly holding true for the national political scene and it is benefiting the county Democrats, according to the organization’s newly elected chairman, David Brown.
The election of Republican President Donald J. Trump and ongoing controversies surrounding his administration and policies has, in some ways, sparked interest in the local Democratic party, with newly registered party members and some longtime ones having become galvanized and energized, believes Brown.
Complacency had been “just everywhere,” in the Democratic body politic, especially since Barack Obama was elected president and then re-elected by a majority of voters, Brown said during an interview with The Two River Times conducted on Feb. 6 at the county organization’s headquarters in the Airport Plaza shopping center on Route 36.
“But now people are concerned,” over the new administration’s actions, he continued. “That complacency now is being evaporated by enthusiasm.”
Matthew Anderson, the county organization’s executive director, followed up by noting organization meetings – usually marked by pretty low attendance, with just the stalwart of committee members on hand – have seen surprisingly large turnouts. So much so, that Anderson said they’re looking for larger venues to accommodate the audience.
“Normally we struggle,” to round up volunteers and organization members, Brown acknowledged. “But in this environment Democrats are coming out in droves.”
And that energy will benefit the organization and its slate of candidates, Brown is convinced.
Brown, 46, is a Long Branch native who was chosen late last month to succeed Vin Gopal as the party’s chairman, an unpaid position. Gopal decided to step down last month from his chairman role, which he held since 2012. Gopal plans to run as the Democrat for the state Senate seat for the 11th Legislative District, currently held by Republican Jennifer Beck.
Brown initially faced competition from Spring Lake Heights resident Lorna Phillipson for the chairmanship. Phillipson, who ran unsuccessfully last year for the U.S. House of Representatives against longtime incumbent Chris Smith, dropped out of the chairmanship race after being injured in a car collision.
Brown will serve out the remainder of Gopal’s term, which runs to June 2018.
Brown works as the borough administrator for Roselle, in Union County, and had been active in the Monmouth County party, serving as the organization’s treasurer. He had sought elected office, having run unsuccessfully for Long Branch City Council a few years ago.
“I’ve been a Democrat all my life,” he said, explaining that means, “I believe in Democratic values and the Democratic (party) platform,” on issues. The issues, he said, involve supporting equal pay for men and women, available and affordable health care, and protections against discrimination, among others.
As chairman, Brown sees his job as being the “servant/ leader” of the party and following its wishes. “And it’s not easy,” he conceded, attending to the disparate interests in a large, diverse county like Monmouth. “Sometimes it’s like being (King) Solomon,” trying to keep that balance, he kidded.
But one of the chairman’s major responsibilities is getting candidates elected. He said there is “a lot of enthusiasm and energy of new Democrats coming out I believe will translate into additional votes.”
The Democrats could use it. Monmouth County’s current voter registration gives Democrats a slight edge with 105,000, compared to 101,000 Republicans. But what makes or breaks countywide elections here in Monmouth are the independent/unaffiliated voters, which total about 208,000. And while there are the occasional bright spots for Democrats – sometimes winning a county freeholder seat (even taking control of the five-member freeholder board for a year in 2009, the first time in more than a generation), and shoring up majorities in some municipalities, the county has been consistently Republican red. Last year’s election was no different, with the GOP incumbents handily winning county races, and Donald Trump carrying the county easily.
“We’re trying to craft our message,” Brown said, with hopes of appealing to a Trump backlash. “We’re going to be the anti-Trump,” he said, charging the president “rules by fear and chaos.”
To do that, “We want to put in good candidates who will govern by good government.”
And that means selecting those candidates. That too, he acknowledged, is a tough process to find qualified candidates who can appeal to a broad cross-section of voters and be up to the increasingly rough-and-tumble world of a political campaign, which has become the case even for state or county campaigns.
The county organization will hold a convention early this spring to formally select its slate of candidates for the Senate and Assembly races for the 11th, 12th, 13th and 30th Districts; presumably the 11th Assembly members Joann Downey and Eric Houghtaling will be running for re-election. Those Democrats defied expectations and won in 2015, ousting two veteran Republicans.
The county organization has already thrown its support behind Monmouth County’s own Philip D. Murphy for the governor’s race. Murphy, Middletown, has been winning over Democratic organizations and garnering union support in his bid to win the competitive nomination race and go on to the general election in November. “And with Phil Murphy on the top of the ticket,” Brown offered assuredly, “I believe the Monmouth County Democrats will thrive.”
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