The lady at the deli counter apologized for the wait.  “It’s been a hectic morning.  We had to fill 65 orders for 6 foot subs and we are completely sold out of ice.”  No, it is not Superbowl Sunday, just a typically sweltering Saturday in the summer.  As I stood in line and watched folks stocking up on provisions, hurrying to kick back, relax and enjoy their getaway to the beach, lake, or pool with family and friends, I felt a twinge of envy.  But I too, was invited to a party.  One that does not require flip flops but involves a ton of work!   

There are less than four months until the general election on November 4th, which will determine who fills various governmental positions -- Assembly, Freeholder, Sheriff, Surrogate and Town Council.  Democrats and Republicans alike are getting organized for a busy fall.  Here is a glimpse at how the region’s political animals were keeping cool in their habitats this week.       

Morris County Democrats held a watch party for the Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate at its headquarters, located directly across the hall from the Morris County Republicans’ headquarters in Morris Plains.  Democratic Assembly Candidates held an open house to kick off their campaign and set up their office.  Volunteers were asked to donate office supplies and canvass after.       

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The Morris County Republicans had a bit more work to do in the way of hospitality and relationship-building as the party just came out of a contested primary.  Hence, the traditional post-Primary Unity Breakfast to feed the audience with healthy morsels:  leave the past behind you, quash any acrimony toward your adversaries, unify and get to work to assure a victory in November! Nobel Peace Prize Winner Nelson Mandela said it better: “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.” Now, I know, this is heavy to digest before 10 am on a weekend morning with a long wait for a cup of coffee.  Nevertheless, it is important as our quality of life here in Morris County depends on it. 

Is a Unity Breakfast unique to Morris County, to Republicans? I had to ask.   According to its public calendar, the Morris County Democrats do not host such an event.  Morris County’s largest voting block, those registered as “unaffiliated,” who can only vote in general elections without having to declare a party, have no formal  organizational presence.  So, as an independent, even if you wanted to attend a holiday reception or simply meet up for happy hour with like-minded folk, no such luck.  Comparing apples to apples however, it appears that neighboring GOP Committees do not have a unity breakfast either.  The Union County GOP held a pre-Primary Pasta Party.  The alliteration alone makes it feel like naturally-occurring fun and togetherness.  It sends the message: “We can still party and hang out together, no matter who wins tomorrow!”  Not, let’s rip each other’s eyes out and I’ll ask for your forgiveness later, which in today’s self-help era, is what would be considered a dysfunctional relationship.   

One would expect sour grapes would be the main course. Not the case in polite Morris County.  Instead, sweetness, through pursed lips and requisite air kisses, was purveyed.  Speaking of sour food items, when I was a kid, my mother would say: “A pickle can’t go back to being a cucumber.”  She would give me this warning when I was upset with a friend and close to saying something mean and damaging.   

Honestly though, how is unity achieved once the mud slung by a candidate has landed on an opponent’s face, reaching all the way to the hearts of their family members, who did not sign up for a flogging in town square.  The Freeholder race got so toxic, a legal battle has ensued.  One candidate involved in the defamation suit, openly boycotted the event.  Still, with all the barbs and thousands of dollars that go into delivering nastygrams to voters – turnout was less than 10%.  There are over 122,000 registered voters who could have exercised their right and have a say in governance by either showing up to the polls or voting by mail.  For whatever reason, more than 90% of them did not.        

Newsflash partygoers: The enemy is not in the room.  If you are going to attack what is corroding our democracy, your focus should be on the disenfranchised voter, not the person sitting across from you.  .  The reasons behind apathy are many.  But, if you have chosen to step up and ask the public to put their trust in you, then be ready to make it your personal responsibility to ignite, educate, and engage the electorate.  This goes for the incumbents, who stand to benefit from low voter turnout, as well. 

It is important to note that the Morris County Democrats and some neighboring Republicans did not have a contested race this time around.  Let’s not be fooled into thinking this is because they get along well with others.  Unnamed sources have shared their stories about being turned down by their party’s leadership. “You cannot run because I am; it’s not your time,” they are told.  Look at the lineup of Democratic Assembly Candidates for two legislative districts centered in Morris County.  All four candidates hold Chairmanships within their party. 

The way candidates conduct themselves during a campaign tells us who they are.  Party insiders are the most aware of the dishonest, disrespectful, self-serving players in this game.  No oath is going to suddenly change an individual who has exhibited volatility and incivility while running for office.  In fact, the power, pressure and scrutiny that comes with holding office, only gives rise to a person’s true character.  When a candidate dismisses a class of people, cannot provide their ideas or explain how they would execute them in the months prior to an election, they are not prepared to serve and certainly not lead.  Like the candidate, the party also has a responsibility. 

Just like the corporate world has had to adapt, party leaders should be doing the same and foster an inclusive culture within the organization to develop and promote knowledgeable, capable and noble agents of change.  As the Republicans of Morris County seem to be running a more democratic process, this should be an easy fix.  Perhaps not so for the Democrats, where party boss and candidate are interchangeable.     

Certainly, watch parties and speeches over dry toast are not going to cut it.  It just may be time for both parties to try something radical.  After all, the people are counting on you to lead the way and give them a reason to come out and vote.   

If not, it will remain business as usual.  We will go about our day, fill up our coolers and head to the beach!

 

About the Author: Reggie Brooks, a self-avowed “Participant Observer,” covers culture, society, and politics in Morris County.  Depending on the day, mood, and experience, there is no telling what Brooks will critique.  Any leads, hypocrisies to expose, reforms to propose, etc., should be sent to:  reggiebrooksnj@gmail.com.