County GOP boss rips Bedminster split
Florio incensed by ‘ugly’ infighting that helped elect first Democrat in years and oust mayor
Thursday, November 10, 2005
BY RALPH R. ORTEGA
Somerset County Republican Chairman Dale Florio delivered a tongue lashing to his party members in Bedminster Township yesterday for divisiveness that handed Democrats their first victory on the township committee in years.
Florio denounced political mud flung at Bedminster Republican Mayor Amey Mesko by members of her own party in an election race that challenged her ability to lead, and questioned her ethics.
“I’m not going to mince words. It was ugly. It was nasty,” said Florio. “There was nowhere else in Somerset County where people treated each other like this. It was unconscionable, and you can’t expect the voters to put up with it — and they didn’t.”
Yet last year, the same instigator, Don “Burning” Cross, delivered a flyer attacking Zahir Jain, basically for being Pakistani-born and therefore “unfit” to serve on Bedminster Committee. And Dale Florio was nowhere to be found!
Republican-turned Democrat Sally Rubin won with 1,036 votes, 100 more than the defeated Mesko on Tuesday. The mayor also fended off a challenge from another one-time Republican, independent Rob Colatarci.
The political newcomer had public backing from well-known Republicans, including Deputy Mayor Don Cross. Colatarci ended up garnering 873 votes, 63 short of Mesko’s total.
So we had an election that looked like this:
Rubin (D) 1036 (36.4%)
Mesko (R) 936 (32.9%)
Colatarci (I-R) 873 (30.7%)
Does it sound like the Democrats are gaining strength in Bedminster? Maybe if every future race is a three-way, where the independent was a former Republican. And the Democrat was a former Republican.
I think what Mr. Florio is really upset about, is now every article written about Bedminster committee, is going to have a quote about what the representative for the other party had to say. That is the thing the Somerset G.O.P. fears the most.
Florio blamed the Republicans for dividing voters and crippling support for Mesko, who was the Republican municipal committee choice for the GOP ticket.
“Split the vote, and what do you expect?” said Florio.
Rubin’s election marked the first successful attempt to have a Democrat sit on the all-Republican five-member committee in recent memory. The Democrats were absent for so long, few remembered the last one who had made it on to the governing body.
Screven Lorillard, a local contract farmer who goes by his middle name Peter, said he believed his father, also Screven Lorillard, was the last elected Democratic committeeman.
The elder Lorillard, who is now deceased, also was a Republican-turned Democrat. He had switched parties to successfully seek re-election in 1973, according to an old campaign flier his son kept over the years.
“Look hard for this Republican name on the Democratic line,” the elder Lorillard told voters in the flier that explained he was reversing his decision to step down from politics after six years on the committee.
His decision, however, came after a GOP candidate was already in the running. Urged by voters to run anyway, Lorillard had his name placed on the Democratic ticket.
You see, this is how Democrats win in Republican strongholds. They first become Republicans. Then, by some quirk, have to switch and run as Democrats. That’s how Joanne Kane would have won this year in Bridgewater, had she stuck with the party, instead of with Patti.
Rubin’s party switch came after she was snubbed by Republicans who chose newcomer Kurt Joerger to fill an unexpired term on the committee last year. She later ran as an unsuccessful write-in candidate in the 2004 election, which Joerger won after a heated recount by five votes against a Democratic challenger.
Unhappy with Joerger and the Republicans, Rubin joined the Democrats to run in this year’s election against Mesko.
Mesko also had been having problems with certain GOP members, including Cross, who opposed the relocation of a State Police medevac helicopter to Bedminster from Newark in February. Mesko refused to take a public stand on the issue, but voted to approve the renewal of a permit allowing the helicopter’s use of a trailer at Somerset Airport.
So here’s what it is: some people in Bedminster just don’t want that Heliport.
Cross also raised concerns over Mesko’s move to purchase a membership at a golf course owned by real estate mogul Donald Trump, accusing her of seeking a discount.
Other Republicans latched on and criticized Mesko for not disclosing her interest in the membership while sitting on the township planning board during the hearing of an application to expand the exclusive course.
Mesko denied she sought favoritism, and recused herself from the application which is still pending. Criticism of her ethics and leadership dogged her through the election race, especially from Cross, who broke ranks with the GOP’s nomination of Mesko. Cross backed Colatarci instead.
Burning Cross knew exactly what he was doing. Since he didn’t have Mesko’s vote in any event, he replaced her with a Democrat who’s vote he wouldn’t have in any event.
“We benefited from their family squabble, there’s no question about it,” said Rubin.
Rubin credited the Democrats for spearheading a grass-roots movement to get her elected in a one-party town.
Mesko, who on top of her loss was battling pneumonia, said she wished Rubin well.
Mesko also said she was not bitter about the negative campaigning.
“It was very disappointing, and very sad, that some people felt they had to do that,” she said.
So here, it was the Democrats finally seizing on a clear opportunity. This is a rarity in Somerset County Democratic politics. Usually, they screw it up.
Cross, told of Florio’s disapproval, made no apologies for rejecting Mesko.
“If you know you got a rotten apple in the barrel, you better get rid of it,” he said.
Florio complained about the negativity that brought down Mesko.
“That’s the sport in Bedminster,” he said, warning support would come for a changing of the guard in the GOP.
“Republicans who are tired of the nastiness,” he said, “will come forward.”
Hmmm. Florio, at the county level, said that “Republicans who are tired of the nastiness will come forward” in Bedminster. But Florio doesn’t live in Bedminster??
Do you think he’s planning to involve himself in the politics of Bedminster Township? (I wonder what “DBC” on NJ.com’s Hillsborough board would have to say about that??)