BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Councilman Matthew Moench has received the endorsement for mayor from the Bridgewater Republican Municipal Committee – but not without dissension from within the committee itself.
“I am honored to receive the endorsement of the BRMC and the opportunity to run with their support in the Republican primary for mayor of Bridgewater this June,” Moench said.
Current Republican Mayor Dan Hayes did not receive the nomination, but has already announced a kick-off to his campaign to secure the votes in the June primaries, and in fact opted not to screen for the nomination at all.
The Bridgewater Republican Municipal Committee is made up of one male and one female elected from each voting district. The individuals are local party leaders, and the committee then selects a chair.
According to Michael Kirsh, chair of the Bridgewater Republican Municipal Committee, the executive board did a call for candidates for the mayoral position in December, and issued its convention rules. Two people, Moench and Hayes, showed interest in screening to receive the endorsement.
“In the course of our process, Mayor Hayes decided not to seek the support of the Bridgewater Republican Municipal Committee, so we ended up with one and only one approved candidate, who agreed to abide by our convention rules,” Kirsh said.
According to Beth Powers, current member of the committee and former chair, Hayes did not participate in the screening because of a convention rule that he did not want to abide by.
“He told us his decision,” she said. “The rule would preclude him from challenging (the endorsed candidate) in a primary.”
“There are many of us who felt that Mayor Hayes is doing a good job, and if, (for example), he lost by a couple votes, he should still get the line,” she added. “The committee is only about 72 people strong, and we don’t feel that is indicative of the whole town.”
Hayes said that after careful consideration, he decided to bypass the screening process and go directly to the about 8,000 Republican residents in Bridgewater.
“The screening process had been corrupted, and I decided to take my message directly to the voters who have supported me,” he said. “I run on my record, and have always had the same goals.”
That record, Hayes said, includes low taxes, preservation of open space, strong economy, priority for safety and investment in roads.
“These are all things that would be in jeopardy (if my opponent wins),” he said.
In the event of there being only one candidate, Kirsh said, the committee was allowed to take a yay or nay vote in choosing the candidate, which it did Wednesday evening.
“So we completed the procedure to nominate Matt,” he said. “As a result of the events, Matt is the endorsed candidate. He has received the designation as the BRMC candidate.”
“To the best of my knowledge, this is an unprecedented situation,” Kirsh added. “I’ve been involved in politics like this for many years, specifically in Bridgewater back to 2007, so I would say this is an unprecedented circumstance. The usual course is to seek the BRMC endorsement.”
Kirsh said the vote was considered unanimous because he did not hear any nay votes. If there had been an objection, he said, there could have been a discussion and a potential formal tally, but that did not happen.
“I heard a solid chorus of ayes, and I asked for no’s and heard nothing,“ he said. “I was just looking to judge the chorus and then I could make a judgment of the room.”
“It is fair to characterize the vote as unanimous because every vote I heard was affirmative, and I heard no negative voices,” he added.
Powers said those who were not in favor of giving the endorsement to Moench remained silent during the vote.
“This upset a lot of us,” she said. “I’ve been on the committee for over 27 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. We don’t do this to sitting politicians who are doing a good job.”
Powers said the last time Hayes ran for re-election, he was elected by a 2:1 margin.
“I think most of the township thinks he is doing a good job,” she said, adding that Hayes is planning to challenge Moench in the primaries. “I don’t think we should change horses mid-stride.”
Kirsh said there is concern among some of the more than 70 committee members about having a contested primary. He said he is not aware of there ever having been a contested mayoral primary in the past.
“Some members are concerned about the possibility of division,” he said.
Powers also said the potential for division among the committee is very disconcerting.
“I always thought the Republican committee in Bridgewater could treat each other with respect and a little decorum, and it seems like some of us have lost that, and it’s quite upsetting,” she said.
Al Gaburo, chair of the Somerset County Republican Committee, said he is disappointed in the dissension he is seeing among the committee members.
“Candidly, I’m very disappointed in Councilman Moench, and the reason is that this is a year the Republicans should be fighting Democrats, not a year Republicans should be fighting Republicans,” he said. “From a county standpoint, I’d like to focus on the Democrats, not good Republicans.”
“This should be about Republicans holding office in November, not having to worry about senseless primaries,” he added.
Gaburo said the people he has spoken to in Bridgewater have expressed disappointment about the division.
“This is not something that usually happens in Bridgewater,” he said. “I spoke at a Bridgewater Republican Municipal Committee meeting, and that’s the message I delivered there, that this has never been the way Bridgewater has acted in the past.”
“These are all good folks, duly elected members of the county committee,” he added. “They have always been a very strong and loyal committee.”
Gaburo said that in the last year, campaigns were led to oust some Republicans from the committee, which were successful in last year’s committee elections.
Hayes said there is generally low turnover on the committee, but in the past year, longstanding members were attacked and voted out of the committee.
“So I did not seek the endorsement, but I have an endorsement from many members,” he said. “They are aware of the leadership I and my team have been showing.”
Moench said the accusation of attacks on longstanding members of the committee is just an excuse for the change.
“We had an election last year for the (Bridgewater) Republican Municipal Committee, which is held every two years,” he said. “The voters of those districts selected the committeemen and committeewomen who they felt best represented their views. That's called democracy. The mayor may not like the decisions of the voters, but that's how it goes when you live in a free society.”
“Whether it is on this issue, or taxes or development, the mayor needs to respect the decisions of the voters,” he added. “His failure to do so is why he lost the party support and why he will lose in June.”
Anyone else looking to run as a Republican in the primaries, Kirsh said, must submit a petition by the first week of April.
At this point, the committee has no additional role with regard to the mayoral race.
“My closing thought is I’m thrilled that Matt followed our process, and I believe he will be an outstanding candidate, and very successful mayor,” Kirsh said.
Moench said he is looking forward to the work ahead, and potential changing of the guard.
“I think that elected officials, especially executives, should not sit in office indefinitely, and after eight years of Mayor Hayes’ leadership, I believe the BRMC and the voters in Bridgewater are ready for change,” he said.
“We need new energy and an invigorated effort to engage residents in the long-term strategic planning of our township, especially on issues of development, infrastructure improvements, debt reduction and overall enhancements to our quality of life,” he said. “We must never stop fighting for lower taxes and fiscal restraint, and must make prudent financial decisions based upon fact, not emotion.”
Hayes, who launched his re-election campaign in late January, said he is looking forward to the process.
“I am always excited about campaigning and everything it involves,” he said. “There is nothing I enjoy more than speaking with residents. Let’s keep pursuing a vision of Bridgewater as an exemplary community.”
“I think my record shows, people over politics,” he added.
With the endorsement, Kirsh said, Moench can utilize the designation as he sees fit.
“I believe there are a substantial number of committee members who will actively support his campaign,” he said. “And certainly there is the potential for some to support Mayor Hayes.”
The primaries will be held June 4.