Monmouth Democratic Chairman Vin Gopal is hoping to be the Gene Michael of politics. Michael, the New York Yankees General Manger in the early 1990’s, rebuilt the mediocre team back to dominant glory by focusing on new talent in the farm system. As a player, Michael was a master of the hidden ball trick. In baseball the hidden ball trick is when a position player fakes throwing the ball back to the pitcher after a play, only to tag out the base runner when he take a lead off the base.
Like Michael, Gopal is trying to build his farm team in Monmouth County municipal races, knowing he can’t win the big show in the short term, with an eye on future dominance of Monmouth County government and the State of New Jersey. Also like Michael, Gopal always has a trick up his sleeve behind his youthful smile and pleasant demeanor.
Gopal hasn’t even fielded a team in 23 races in 16 Monmouth County towns. Yet he has the press and New Jersey’s Democratic leadership convinced he’s building a future empire from the bottom up.
But if he doesn’t deliver the goods tonight, Gopal could end up as a Hardy Peterson, the Yankees General Manager who only lasted in the job for one year, 1990, instead of Michael, and find himself challenged for the county chairmanship when his first term ends in June.
The towns to watch tonight are Red Bank, Aberdeen, Eatontown, Highlands, Hazlet and Marlboro.
The Democrats hold every municipal seat in Red Bank and Aberdeen. Republicans breaking into those Democratic strongholds would be a major setback for Gopal.
Gopal is so concerned about Red Bank where Sean DiSomma and Cindy Burnham have mounted an aggressive campaign, that he launched a false media attack on DiSomma’s character. The tactic backfired when Gopal’s allegations proved frivolous, resulting in greater exposure and sympathy for DiSomma.
In Aberdeen, the Democrats have spent roughly $60,000 to defend the mayor’s seat and two council seats, according to GOP mayoral candidate Gus Toomey, III. Currently the Dems hold all 6 council seats and the mayor’s chair. The GOP spent only $3000, says Toomey, and the D’s are running scared against him and his running mates for council, Mike Vail and Ed Failla. A GOP victory in Aberdeen would be devastating for Democrats.
Partisan control is at stake in Eatontown where the Democrats currently hold 4 of 6 seats on the council and the mayor’s chair. Two Democratic seats are on the ballot today, Jennifer Piazza’s and Meir Aramond, both of whom are running for reelection. If GOP candidates Kevin Gonzalez and Richard Robinson win, control flips to the Republicans.
In Highlands where Mayor Frank Nolan has been the sole Republican on the five person governing body, Council President Rebecca Kane has mounted an aggressive challenge for the mayoralty with assists from Gopal and U.S. Senator Cory Booker. Nolan, who doesn’t accept the mayor’s stipend, took a months leave of absence from his job in order to manage the borough’s recovery from Superstorm Sandy. He lost his own home in the strom. Despite having the resources to move his young family into a comfortable situation, stayed in the shelter at Henry Hudson Regional High School with other Highlands surviors for 17 days.
Highlands, a small town with only 2200 voters, is an unlikely battleground. But the Monmouth GOP and legislative delegation have rallied around Nolan because they are inspired by who is he is and how he responded to Sandy. Senator Jennifer Beck and Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon going door to door for Nolan yesterday will likely trump Booker’s robo call for Kane. Complicating this race for the Democrats is a write-in campaign by newcomer Douglas Card and a referendum to make Highlands a non-partisan town. The Democrats are fighting the non-partisan referendum, Card and Nolan. Yet, if Gopal can’t pick up this seat while losing seats elsewhere, he probably will face a challenge in June.
Hazlet a town that traditionally swings back and forth for partisan control, with the Democrats now in the majority 3-2. Gopal targeted taking complete control by recruiting his former business partner, Cliff Moore to step back from his leadership of Northern Monmouth business and civic organizations to enter politics. Moore and his running mate Audrey Tyler are in an uphill battle to unseat long term Republican Township Committee Members Scott Aagre and Michael Sach. Gopal’s biggest problem in Hazlet is that the Moore-Tyler lawn signs have people humming Love is All Around, instead of thinking of voting for Tyler and Moore.
A victory or loss in Marlboro will not be a direct reflection on Gopal’s leadership. The Marlboro Democratic team lead by Mayor Jon Hornick and Council President/Municipal Chair Frank LaRocca, LaHornicca, have built their own well run political machine and fundraising powerhouse. LaHonicca built their team through trades and free agents, rather than the farm system approach that Gopal is attempting to deploy. Two of the three Democratic incumbents running for Marlboro council today are former Republicans, as is much of the Marlboro Democratic organization. Marlboro traditionally votes Republican above the municipal level. LaRocca, as chairman, is going all out to win today in the face of Governor Christie’s anticipated romp at the top of the ticket, as well as huge anticipated victories in Marlboro by the GOP 13th legislative district candidates and Monmouth County candidates. LaRocca told MMM it was possible that the GOP could sweep in Marlboro today, especially since he has no up ballot support.
But, if the Marlboro Dems win at least two seats today, as most observers expect, and a significant portion of Gopal’s candidates in the towns above lose, LaRocca would have a good argument for challenging Gopal for the Democratic chairmanship in June. Gopal won the chairmanship in a landslide over LaRocca in 2011, after long term Chairman Victor Scudiery retired.
MMM will be following and reporting the results of municipal elections in these towns tonight.