It’s an Election Day that doesn’t seem to be registering on New Jersey voters’ radar despite national polls reflecting dissatisfaction with the status quo.
With a lack of a gubernatorial or presidential election topping the ballot this Nov. 3, voters have seemed to largely tuned out, with record low turnouts being predicted. But there are those seeking office or re-election to vital and powerful state, county and local seats, with state Assembly candidates heading their tickets, and voters having to fill county freeholder and county clerk seats as well.
On the national level the focus has already turned to 2016 and the maneuverings of Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and a host of others. And as attention has turned to the big show for the White House, there is the national media offering its take on the mood of the electorate.
Numerous polls have shown a dissatisfaction with the status quo on the national stage, with Trump and Ben Carson and to a lesser degree, Carly Fiorina, on the GOP side looking to hitch their wagons to the “throw the bums out” star; and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, to some degree, looking to do the same on the Democratic side.
But in New Jersey that doesn’t seem to be the case.
“The reason it doesn’t play out is, it is not that it (dissatisfaction with the status quo) doesn’t exist,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, West Long Branch, speaking of voter anger, “it’s just that voters are smart enough to realize it’s a waste of their time.”
Murray takes a jaundiced view, believing Garden State voters have come to realize even if they wanted to throw the bums out, “The whole system is rigged to keep the bums in.”
Given that, Murray suspected Tuesday’s voter turnout will be low. “Record low,” he predicted. He suspected voter turnout could be around 25 percent.
“The country is very divided,” more politically polarized than the state, giving rise to some of the dissatisfaction voiced by constituents on the national level, said John Weingart, associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics, at Rutgers University.
But New Jersey voters have come to realize that redistricting, most recently in 2010, has led to almost bulletproof incumbents in safe districts. “The expectation is they’re going to win by 60, 70, 80 percent,” Weingart said.
In the Two River area, the only notable contest at the Assembly level is in the 11th District where incumbent GOP candidates Mary Pat Angelini and Carolyn Casagrande have been the subject of a number of negative flyers favoring their Democratic opponents, Eric Houghtaling and Joanne Downey. The incumbents, who, with Senator Jennifer Beck represent the only district in the state where both the Senate and Assembly members are female, have been alleged to have voted against women’s issues during their tenure in office. The GOP has charged Houghtaling increased property taxes as a Neptune Committee member while also voting to increase the rate of pay for committee members. Downey has been dubbed a “liberal lawyer” who represents clients who have sued for taxpayers’ money. GOP flyers charge the Democrats are funded by Democratic leaders, including Assemblymen from other districts. The 11th District encompasses Red Bank, Shrewsbury Borough and Township, Eatontown, Colts Neck, and Tinton Falls among the municipalities it serves.
Among the few local municipalities with highly contested local elections is Atlantic Highlands where incumbent Mayor Fred Rast is not seeking another term, and long time Councilman Jack Archibald is running for mayor with France Karras and Jim Krauss, both seeking their first terms on the governing body. They are facing incumbent Councilman Roy Dellosso and Chamber of Commerce President Chuck Lero. Democratic Councilman Robert Sutton, whose term also expires in January, chose not to run for re-election. Borough GOP Chairman Jane Frotton said apathy at county, state or national levels does not really impact the borough to any great extent. “People in Atlantic Highlands care for their own, they have shown that in every election. Voters here know all the candidates, everyone gets along once the election is over and everyone just wants what’s best for the borough. I feel confident Atlantic Highlands voters once again will turn out to support their local candidates for mayor and council.” When asked for a prediction, the GOP leader said, “It’s always impossible and doesn’t make any sense to predict a winner. Both parties just do their best to get the message out then leave the decision, as it should be, in the hands of the voters.”
Dellosso believes the turnout will be light but thinks the flyer sent out by the county Democrat organization criticizing the Republican mayoral candidate without mentioning the names of any Democrats on the literature will be helpful to the Democrats. He feels confident both he and Chuck Lero, running for the other council seat, will be able to retain the two Democratic seats on the otherwise GOP council. “The people like to be governed by bi-partisanship,” he said, pointing out that a GOP sweep will result in six Republican council members and one GOP Mayor. Randi LeGrice, who is the Democratic chairman for the borough, is seeking her first term as mayor, but could not be reached for comment at press time.
Although Highlands is governed under the non-partisan Faulkner Act, Plan C, the two seats to be decided there will also be decided Tuesday. Seeking re-election to their second terms are Tara Ryan and Kevin Redmond, both of whom served as Democrats until the borough changed its government form last year. Also seeking the two seats are former councilman Bill Caizza, who served as a Democrat, and Carolyn Broullon, a registered Democrat, and Claudette D’Arrigo, an Independent. The two women, neither of whom has sought election here in the past, have been campaigning together and appear to have significant compatible views on local government.
Although regulations prohibit partisan leaders from supporting candidates in the non-partisan election, County Democrat Chairman Vin Gopal came out in support of Ryan in recent news articles, but did not support Redmond, Caizza or Broullon. Ryan is the president of the local Democratic Club. Both Ryan and Redmond also recently addressed residents of Ptak Towers, the low income housing residence managed by the borough Housing Authority. Councilman Rebecca Kane, who is also the Democratic leader for the borough is a member of the Authority.
Gopal believes “national moods always tend to affect an election locally.” But that national mood has yet to spill over in the state. It’ll be a different story next year with the White House up for grabs and whatever that mood may be for the nation.
That voter ennui was seen with some voters. Rick Grumstein of Ramsey was sitting doing work while drinking coffee at the Red Bank Starbucks when he explained that he would vote in his local elections. “As a taxpayer and as a resident with children in elementary school I think it’s important to vote and at least pretend my vote is important,” he said. “For the most part I have a feeling that nothing will ever change and that there is no such thing as change,” he continued.
Ian Grusd of Colts Neck claimed that he will not be voting in the local elections. “The national election has caught my attention, but I am not tracking what the issues are locally.”
Grusd explained how he believes that if you feel there should be change, “than you have to get up and make a change. I am OK with the way things are locally so that is why I am choosing not to vote,” he said.
Joseph Reid, a local man who said he would vote in both the national and local elections described his view on how people feel about local and national politics. “People of both parties are fed up with promises that aren’t being fulfilled,” he said. “I am very disappointed with both parties.”
In these type of off-, or even off-off-year elections the common trait is “it brings out the most educated voters,” Gopal has experienced.
Any of that angry national sentiment maybe out there, “But I’m not feeling it locally,” said Anthony Fiore, Monmouth County Republican Committee vice-chairman and Middletown Township Committee member.
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