Home>Campaigns>After mayor’s party switch, Dems fight to hold Gloucester’s swingy Monroe Township

The historic Downer Methodist Episcopal Church in Monroe Township in Gloucester County. (Photo: Wikipedia).

After mayor’s party switch, Dems fight to hold Gloucester’s swingy Monroe Township

Incumbent DiLucia defeated in Republican primary, but general election still looms

By Joey Fox, September 27 2022 3:33 pm

Earlier this year, Monroe Township Mayor Richard DiLucia had an idea. Realizing that he might not get the Democratic line for re-election in his swingy Gloucester County community, DiLucia – a longtime Democrat and labor leader – decided to switch parties and try his luck running for re-election as a Republican.

It didn’t work, to put it mildly. 2010 and 2014 mayoral nominee Sam Miles annihilated the party-endorsed DiLucia, who apparently failed to convince Republican voters he was really one of them, by a 72%-28% margin in the June Republican primary. DiLucia’s council slate, which included fellow party-switching Councilwoman Katherine Falcone, also got crushed by Miles’ running mates, who ran on the “Real Republicans Real Choice Real Solutions” ballot line.

Now, Miles faces Democratic Council President Gregory Wolfe in what amounts to a test of whether the Democratic roots of Monroe Township, and of Gloucester County more broadly, are able to withstand the red tides that have recently washed over South Jersey.

DiLucia himself first arrived in office by dint of a challenge to a sitting incumbent. In March 2018, the Monroe Township Democratic organization unanimously chose to dump Mayor Dan Teefy, and then-Councilman DiLucia beat Teefy 47%-40% in the Democratic primary three months later. Teefy’s entire council slate was also swept away by Wolfe, Falcone, and now-Councilman Patrick O’Reilly, all of whom ran on DiLucia’s ticket.

DiLucia faced Republican William Gilson in the 2018 general election, and while the result was no landslide, his 56%-44% victory was still a convincing one. He became the latest in a long line of Democrats to lead Gloucester County’s second-largest municipality; the last Republican elected mayor of Monroe was Carmen DiNovi, who won by all of four votes in 1990.

But under the hood, Monroe, which is steadily diversifying but remains 70% white, has lately shown signs of fleeing the Democratic Party.

After voting for Barack Obama by big margins in both 2008 and 2012, Hillary Clinton only won the township by 34 votes, a margin of 48.5%-48.3%, and Joe Biden did just barely better at 49.8%-48.7%. Gov. Phil Murphy, in the midst of collapsing everywhere across South Jersey, lost the township 45%-54% to Jack Ciattarelli in 2021.

Those results evidently convinced DiLucia, who admitted to voting for Ciattarelli, that the liberal Democrats leading the state were out of sync with his town.

“I was a Democrat since I’m 18 years old,” DiLucia said in March following his party switch. “I’m still a labor guy… This is just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of people have said they are going to follow me. It will be considerable.”

DiLucia also speculated that he might not have been able to get the Gloucester Democratic line anyways, had he remained a Democrat. That’s a frequent cause of party switches in New Jersey, most notably in the case of Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis), who would have likely faced a Democratic primary challenge over his opposition to impeachment had he not defected to Republicans in 2019.

Switching parties alongside DiLucia were Falcone and 1st Ward Councilman Steven McKinney, who won’t be up for re-election until 2024. Monroe elects its mayor and three at-large councilmembers in midterm years, and four ward-based councilmembers in presidential years.

With McKinney’s party switch, the four ward councilmembers are split 2-2 between Democrats and Republicans, so control of the council majority will go to whichever party is able to win at least two of the three seats up this year.

Since Wolfe is running for mayor and Falcone was defeated in the Republican primary, the only incumbent among the six council candidates is O’Reilly, first elected in 2018 on DiLucia’s slate. He’s joined by fellow Democrats Denise Adams and Don Heverly, and they’ll face off against Republicans Mark Kozachyn, Janet Schaefer, and John Valentine, who ran on a slate with Miles in the primary.

Farther up the ballot, Gloucester County is hosting critical races for county commissioner and county clerk; the county hasn’t been controlled by Republicans since the 1980s, but that could change this year. Monroe is something of a bellwether for the county overall, though there’s no guarantee that the county and local races will fall in the same direction.

Headlining the ticket this year is Rep. Donald Norcross (D-Camden), whose contest against Republican Claire Gustafson isn’t expected to be all that close.

If the last three decades’ worth of mayoral elections are anything to go off of, Democrats should be favored – but that streak will break eventually, so why not this year? South Jersey Republicans, fresh off a number of huge wins in the last two years, are hoping 2022 keeps their momentum going, and control of Monroe Township is on the line.

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