Democratic women make big strides in Mendhams, Chesters, Harding

By PHIL GARBER Observer-Tribune Managing Editor 11.13.17

Women and Democrats have long been a difficult combination when it comes to toppling dominant Republicans in area elections.

That didn’t deter Kris Grasso, Rachel Marlowe, Roni Fernandez, Rhonda Allen, Kate Barry, Amalia Duarte, Stacy Strum, Darcy Draeger, Kristin Berkinsky and Laura Montenegro who all ran for office in the Nov. 7 general election.

Only Duarte won her race for a three-year post on the Mendham Township Committee but each of the candidates had respectable vote totals and each said they made a difference in their towns. Not coincidentally, Duarte also was the only woman who did not face off against an incumbent.

They were among a record crop of women Democrats who were on the ballot for municipal offices.

“We got the door open,” said Fernandez who ran for a three-year seat in Washington Township. “Our voice is getting louder.”

The gubernatorial victory of Democrat Phil Murphy over Republican Kim Guadagno along with the election of 23 state senate seats and 56 assembly seats and the election of a Democratic governor and many state legislative posts in Virginia are considered the nation’s first major repudiations of the policies of Republican President Donald Trump. It remained unclear if the voter turnouts for Democrats in local elections was a reflection of the same anger.

The surge in Democrats in the county played out on a gubernatorial level as Republicans gave far less support to Guadagno than they did for Chris Christie in 2013. In the latest contest, 53.13 percent of Morris County voters went for Guadagno and 44.98 percent voted for Murphy.

In 2013, Republican Christie gained 70 percent of the votes in Morris County, compared with just 28.19 percent for Democrat Barbara Buono.

Grasso and Rachel Marlowe joined with fellow Democrats Matt Fink and Jim Buell to challenge for four seats on the Mount Olive Township Council.

Fernandez ran for the Township Committee in Washington Township. Allen and Kate Barry ran in the GOP stronghold of Harding Township.

Stacy Strum ran in Chester and Darcy Draeger was a candidate for the Chester Township Council. And in Mendham, Democrats Kristin Berkinsky and Laura Montenegro were on the ballot.

In all, 11 Democrats won seats this year around Morris County that were formerly held by the Republicans. The last time Democrats won in the double digits was in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

Last year, the Democrats won nine seats. In 2015, they won one and in 2014, they lost a seat.

“A lot of candidates came out after Donald Trump won,” said Chip Robinson, chair of the Morris County Democratic Committee. “They were banging down the doors to get involved.”

In Mount Olive, Robinson said there was essentially no functioning Democratic Committee. That also changed with the Trump election and the work of the new township Democratic chairwoman, Shelly Morningstar.

“There has been a large shift of well-educated women away from Donald Trump. As long as Donald Trump is in the White House, it will continue to accelerate,” Robinson said.

Other Democratic women elected around the county included Kathy Wilson in Morris Township; Carmela Vitale was re-elected in Madison; Emily Peterson and Janice McCarthy were elected in Parsippany; and Edina Renfro Michel was elected in Boonton.

Mendham Township

Duarte gained 1,198 votes or 54.31 percent of the vote compared with Republican Rick Blood who got 1,008 votes or 45.69 percent.

She said she won because of the issues and because enough voters ignored party labels and voted for her. Her support was enough to overcome a last minute letter from four GOP Township Committee members backing Flood. They included Mayor Diana Orben Brown, Frank Cioppettini, Chris Baumann and Rich Diegnan Jr. Republican Committeeman Warren Gisser did not sign the letter.

“The reason I won is I spoke to local issues that resonated across the political spectrum, including recreation, shared services and open government,” Duarte said. “I worked extremely hard.”

Washington Township

Fernandez picked up 2,313 votes or 39.66 percent of the vote. Incumbent Matthew Murello won 3,517 votes or 60.31 percent.

Fernandez was the first woman Democrat to ever run for office in the township. The last women on the Township Committee were both Republicans, Kim Ball Kaiser and Margaret Nordstrom, who served at the turn

of the century. Kevin Nedd was on the committee as an independent although he ran for re-election as a Democrat in 2008 and lost.

“I absolutely wanted to win,” Fernandez said. “We had a top notch campaign and got 40 percent of the vote. I didn’t win but I don’t feel like we lost.”

Like the other women, Fernandez said she was prompted to consider running after the Trump election.

She said the Republicans told voters that a vote for the Democrats and Murphy would mean higher taxes and that Murphy would make New Jersey a sanctuary state.

“There is definitely racism here,” Fernandez said. “Some people are just ignorant.”

Fernandez doesn’t know if she’ll run again but said she wants to work against the “huge issues” of opioid abuse and bullying.

Harding Township

Observers could not remember the last time, if ever, a Democrat served on the Harding Township Committee,let alone a Democratic woman. Asked why

so many women Democrats and women ran this year, Allen had four words: “Donald Trump. One-hundred percent.”

“Someone’s got to do something,” said Allen. “I worked hard for Hillary (Clinton) and I was sickened on how they attacked her.”

Allen said her anger has been further generated by the continuing accusations of sexual assault around the country.

“We can’t stop,” Allen said.

She said she was surprised at the level of anger directed at her and her running mate in Harding.

She specifically took issue with a letter to the editor from Township Committeeman Nicholas Platt, in which he referred to the Democrats as “remarkably transparent, in fact invisible.”

At a debate between the Democrats and Republicans, one older man stood and shouted at the Democrats demanding to know how they thought they had the right to run for the Township Committee when they

had not participated on any local boards. His angry comments were met with boos from some audience members.

Meanwhile, Allen recalled, the debate moderator, ironically a woman, continually referred to them as “girls” until members of the 60-member audience objected.

“Enough is enough,” said Allen.

She said she hasn’t decided if she’ll run again but said she and Barry made a difference.

“I think we made an impact by just being on the ballot,” she said.

Allen said she hopes the energy continues through next year to defeat 12-term congressman, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-11.

“A lot of people are horrified at how he’s aligning to Trump,” Allen said.

Allen got 487 votes or 16.71 percent and her running mate, Kate Barry won 482 votes or 16.54 percent. Incumbent Republican Dev Modi won 973 votes or 33.38 percent and Christopher yates got 969 or 33.24 percent.


Mendham was a close contest for two, three-year seats on the Borough Council

Democrats Kristin Berkinsky got 823 votes or 22.38 percent and her running mate, Laura Montenegro collected 831 votes or 22.59 percent for two. They were edged out by incumbent Republicans John W. Andrews with 1,041 votes or 28.3 percent and Brad Badal with 979 votes or 26.62 percent.

In Chester, Democrat Stacy Strum was competitive in her race for one of two, three-year Borough Council seats. Strum got 237 votes or 26.93 percent while Republican incumbents Timothy Iversen won 296 votes or 33.64 percent and Gary W. Marshuetz had 342 votes or 38.86 percent.

In the race for two, three-year seats on the Chester Township Council, Democrat Darcy Draeger was competitive with 931 votes or 22.65 percent. Republicans Derek Moore had 1,506 votes or 36.64 percent and Michael Inganamort won 1,651 votes or 40.17 percent.

Harding Dems cry foul over GOP mailer

Observer-Tribune Article 7-Nov-2017

HARDING TWP. -Democrats and Republicans clashed over an 11th hour mailing that claims the Democratic candidates for Township Committee would support construction of hundreds of units of a ordable housing in town.

The campaign letter, signed by GOP Township Committee members Chris Yates and Dev Modi who are seeking re-election, was mailed to residents over the weekend.

Both are facing challenges to their seats in today’s election from Democrats Rhonda Allen and Kate Barry.

The letter deals with issues such as taxes, Glen Alpin, open space and a ordable housing. The a ordable housing section is where the rub has arisen.

In the letter, Modi and Yates write that “No issue will have a great future impact on Harding than the state-mandated a ordable housing requirement.

“The stakes are very high. Improperly handled, it could destroy Harding. Fair Share Housing, our adversary in the litigation over this issue, has demanded that Harding provide 300 afordable housing units and that the entire township be rezoned for high density housing, a prospect that would invite developers to build apartment blocks throughout our town,” the letter states.

“We are in litigation because we oppose this and are ghting for Harding. Our opponents have expressed support for the Fair Share Housing objectives,” the letter states.

In a statement issued Monday, Amanda Richardson, campaign manager for Allen and Barry, said the statements were lies.

“We are proud of the positive campaign that Rhonda and Kate have run, making an a rmative case for the bene ts of a two- party system, civil discourse, inclusion and open government,” said Richardson.

“Our campaign mailing to Harding voters last week was completely positive in keeping with the civility that has been and should be a core value of our close-knit community,” she said.

“That is why it was so disheartening to see Yates and Modi resort not only to negative campaigning, but to despicable scare tactics and spreading lies about our candidates that are easily disproven and to stubbornly stick to those untruths when confronted by residents at the post o ce on Saturday.

“Yates and Modi untruthfully assert that we ‘support Fair Share Housing’s objectives” to build “300 a ordable housing units and that the entire town be rezoned for high density housing, a prospect that would invite developers to build apartment blocks throughout our town.’

“They know this to be false. They were sitting only ve feet away during the Oct. 18 debate when Kate Barry clearly explained that we believe that Harding’s allotment can and should be negotiated down. More than 60 township residents attended and heard her,” Richardson said.

Harding Democrats Denounce Untruthful Claims by Republican Candidates

Allen and Barry for Township Committee
Press Release, November 6, 2017
HARDING TWP. — Amanda Richardson, campaign manager for Democratic Township Committee candidates Rhonda Allen and Kate Barry, today demanded that Mayor Chris Yates and Township Committee member Dev Modi retract and apologize for untruthful statements made in a campaign flier they signed, mailed and were personally distributing to Harding voters this weekend.
“We are proud of the positive campaign that Rhonda and Kate have run, making an affirmative case for the benefits of a two-party system, civil discourse, inclusion and open government,” said Richardson.
“Our campaign mailing to Harding voters last week was completely positive in keeping with the civility that has been and should be a core value of our close-knit community,” she said. “That is why it was so disheartening to see Yates and Modi resort not only to negative campaigning, but to despicable scare tactics and spreading lies about our candidates that are easily disproven — and to stubbornly stick to those  untruths when confronted by residents at the post office on Saturday.”
“Yates and Modi untruthfully assert that we ‘support Fair Share Housing’s objectives’ to build ‘300 affordable housing units and that the entire town be rezoned for high density housing, a prospect that would invite developers to build apartment blocks throughout our town.’ They know this to be false. They were sitting only five feet away during the October 18 debate when Kate Barry clearly explained that we believe that Harding’s allotment can and should be negotiated down. More than sixty Township residents attended and heard her,” Richardson said.
Long Hill Township was able to cut its affordable housing number by about 75% by getting credit for units already built and by pointing out that part of their town — like our Township — is located in the Great Swamp or on wetlands, she noted.
“What Kate and Rhonda did say is that we should make sure that any affordable housing built meets the needs of our own seniors and millennials, which we believe is important,” Richardson said.
“As to the Glen Alpin diversion, our candidates said the strategy was worth pursuing, but it was not a sure thing, and they have called for a referendum to go to Township voters before any irrevocable decision is made by the Township Committee to move forward on demolition of this historic house,” she said.
“Yates and Modi go on to assert that our candidates’ alleged ‘support of Fair Share  Housing’s objectives and their lack of support for resolving the Glen Alpin issue would lead to significant expenditures and tax increases.’ It is reprehensible that they would make false claims about our positions on affordable housing and Glen Alpin, and then use those falsehoods to assert that our candidates are in favor of raising taxes. Keeping Harding’s property taxes low is one of our principal campaign promises,” she said.

“Yates and Modi go on to assert that our candidates ‘have taken positions that threaten to destroy the very fabric of our town.’ Nothing could further from the truth. Kate and Rhonda live and work here, and the Barry and Allen families have been part of the fabric of our town for a combined 120 years — more than five times as long as the Republicans they are running against,” Richardson said.

“Yates and Modi owe the voters an apology for putting out such an untruthful press release. Putting out a false press release when it is too late for us to respond with a mailing to voters setting the record straight may win them a few extra votes in the short run, but it will affect their credibility in the long run. If we can’t trust them to be honest during the campaign, how can we trust them in office?” she asked. “A false attack like this is the best argument for why we also need Democrats or independents as watchdogs on the Township Committee. It is negative campaign scare tactics like this that ‘threaten to destroy the very fabric of our town.'”

Vote Allen, Barry in Harding Township, skilled, knowledgeable

Letter to Observer-Tribune 2-Nov-2017

EDITOR: I am writing to endorse Rhonda Allen and Kate Barry for Harding Township committee.

I was born and raised in Harding Township and have known the Barry and Allen families my entire life. I first met Rhonda about 30 years ago after she married a childhood friend of mine, Peter Allen.

Over the past 17 years since I moved back to Harding to start a family and my psychology practice I have been fortunate to get to know Rhonda much more closely as a friend and professional colleague.

Rhonda was quite helpful to me as I was starting my practice. She was already well connected with the local and state psychological associations that she has been an active member for and held several leadership roles over the past two decades. Rhonda is well known and highly respected in our local psychological community.

I feel very confident that her finely tuned skills of conflict resolution and mediation will be an asset to the Township Committee along with her high standards for ethical practice.

Kate has the local knowledge that can only come with lifelong residency. Between volunteering at the New Vernon Presbyterian Nursery School and her lifetime of activity in the town, she seems to know everyone in Harding. I am very impressed with Kate’s commitment to Harding and passion for getting involved in our local government.

She knows our bridle path riding trails better than most. When she is not riding on the trails, she can be seen running on the Harding roads, often with a bottle or can she’s picked up to take home and recycle.

She is open-minded, forward thinking, but also has an enormous respect for and love of history. Her expertise in environmental issues and sustainable development, along with her first-hand knowledge of the Harding real estate market will greatly enhance the Township Committee, bringing experience and skills like no other.

I urge everyone to join me in voting for Rhonda Allen and Kate Barry, two women of strength, intelligence, and character on Nov. 7.


Millbrook Road Harding Township

Observer-Tribune EDITORIAL: Making the right move

Observer-Tribune Link


The Harding Township Republican Club made the right move when members postponed a talk by a township consultant at this Sunday’s GOP meeting until after Tuesday’s election.

The Republicans had drawn heat from Democrats for having hosted the township consultant on affordable housing at an earlier Republican Club meeting on Sunday, Oct. 1.

The two Democratic candidates for Township Committee claimed that consultants, who are hired by and paid by the township, should not attend a partisan meeting. The Democrats’ concern is that they would not be able to bring out the same consultant. It’s a justifiable point.

Democrats Rhonda Allen and Kate Barry said the appearance could benefit their Republican opponents, incumbents Chris Yates and Dev Modi. And they said the consultant should only be involved in municipal and not political events.

The Democrats were right on both counts.

The Republican Club statement said it was postponing a talk that had been planned for Sunday by its Glen Alpin consultant, Frank Pinto, partner of Greener by Design, LLC. GOP Club President Regina Egea referred to “unfounded accusations” and said the decision was made so as to spare the firm from being involved in a controversy.

She said the only reason the consultant was invited was to inform the public. If that was the real reason, the club should have waited until after the election to call on the consultant.

Egea, the former chief of staff for Gov. Chris Christie, said she was “personally disappointed with the attacks and accusations that have crept into this current race for the Township Committee seats in Harding.”

The Harding Township Democratic Organization has asked the state Election Law Enforcement Commission to decide on whether the appearance of a township consultant at a Republican campaign violates state law.

The Democrats claim that Pinto’s appearance would likely constitute an “in kind” contribution that must be reported to the state. Greener By Design LLC has an $18,200 no-bid contract with the all-Republican Township Committee.

State law prohibits contractors awarded no-bid contracts over $17,500 for professional services from making cash or in-kind contributions to the candidates or party committees that hired them in excess of $300.

Harding is about as Republican as it gets and the GOP has run municipal affairs unimpeded, for many uninterrupted years. It sounds like the party may simply have assumed that it could give the platform to its consultants.

That was wrong and at least a second apparent violation will be avoided.

Encourage different viewpoints in Harding Township

Observer-Trinune reference

Published 30-Oct-2017

EDITOR: I was very disappointed to read a letter, just posted on the Observer-Tribune website, which lowers the level of political discourse in Harding.

During my 14 years of service in Harding governance I experienced more often than not that alternative perspectives, constructively presented, led to better decisions. In the end, the decision makers and the alternative viewpoint presenters may agree to disagree, but the process and the decision as well as the people involved more often benefited from the juxtaposition of these views.

The letter writer implies that you shouldn’t aspire to elected office in Harding without a resume of membership without having been appointed to official board or committee. I have seen instances, however, where individuals have served actively in elected positions in Harding with little more in their resume bag than an appreciation of Harding’s history, values and priorities, coupled with a deep commitment to protecting and enhancing all of those.

That (Rhonda) Allen and (Kate) Barry are willing to put themselves out there to constructively represent alternative viewpoints is to be encouraged if not applauded. Both of these individuals appreciate and value Harding as they find it, but win or lose, are motivated to nudge Harding governance to make it even better.

I am a strong supporter of bi-partisan dialogue and while the voters will ultimate decide who they feel can best represent them, the process and the product is very likely to benefit Harding and that includes all of us.


Former member Board of Adjustment, Planning Board, Township Committee

Lake Trail East, Harding Township

Bring a different political point of view to Harding

EDITOR: I write to endorse the candidacies of Rhonda Allen and Kate Barry for the Harding Township Committee.  Both are Democrats.

Every day we hear calls for bipartisanship as our nation becomes more and more polarized.  Fortunately, we in Harding have enjoyed a civil discourse that is respectful and predicated on the shared values of civic engagement, fiscal responsibility and respect for the environment. We all want to preserve our community’s unique and special way of life.

Engaging all members of our community is an important component of the success of our town because our community relies so heavily on volunteers to operate and to keep our taxes low.

This election presents a rare opportunity to open our local government to those who have not felt part of the process. For the last 28 years that I have resided in Harding, we have had one–party representation.  As someone who is not a member of that party, it is alienating.

Electing representatives of other parties to the Township Committee will inspire a greater feeling of community and encourage more volunteerism on the part of those who may feel disenfranchised.

Both Rhonda and Kate are excellent candidates for the Township Committee. They will serve all of our community while also broadening the representation across more than a single party’s constituents.

Both have lived in Harding for decades.   More importantly, both have a long and substantial history of volunteering in the town.

Rhonda’s two children attended the Harding Township School and she was an active member, both as a parent and as a professional, of the school’s Family Life Committee.   For a great many years, Rhonda was an HTRA team manager for soccer, basketball and baseball teams.  She also provided support for the Harding Cub Scouts by, among other things, coordinating Frost Valley weekends and hosting social events.  Most recently, she actively fought against the placement of the T-Mobile Cell Tower in the heart of rural Harding.

Kate was born and bred in Harding.  She attended the Harding Township School.  An avid equestrian, she belongs to the Harding Township Green Village Bridle Path Association.

As a member of a family actively involved on many sides of Harding politics, she was imbued with a desire to serve from a young age.  She studied political science at the College of Charleston and was a member of the South Carolina Student Legislature.  It is only natural that she now seeks a role in her local government.

Both Rhonda and Kate will bring special talents to the Township Committee. With a PhD from Saint John’s University, Rhonda is a licensed psychologist and a trained mediator. She knows how to listen and she knows how to conciliate.

Kate earned a degree in environment and sustainable development from University College, London, and has worked in the area of environmental policy in New Jersey and New York.  She intends to keep Harding clean and green.

Rhonda and Kate’s campaign slogan is “Shared Values, Fresh Perspectives.”  What they bring to the table is the perspective of many of those members of our community who share the values of what makes Harding special, but who belong to a political party different from the one that has governed for decades. I urge all Harding voters to open their minds to the notion of engaging all members of our community and vote for these new faces on Nov. 7.


Spruce Lane

Harding Township