Home>Campaigns>Campaign 2020 might end on Tuesday with do-over election in South Toms River

South Toms River Borough Council candidates Sandford Ross, left, and George Drutzler.

Campaign 2020 might end on Tuesday with do-over election in South Toms River

After a year-long legal fight, voters will break tie for borough council seat between Sandford Ross and George Rutzler

By David Wildstein, March 14 2022 12:42 pm

One of New Jersey’s longest campaigns could get settled tomorrow when voters in South Toms River return to the polls to decide a borough council election that ended in a tie in November 2020.

In that race, Councilman Sandford Ross and Democrat George Rutzler each received 772 votes.

An extended court battle and some appellate court judges who moved like turtles wearing robes has caused the council seat to be vacant for more than a year.

In a municipality with about 2,500 registered voters, 206 vote-by-mail ballots were issued and just 79 of them (38.3%) have been returned as of this morning.

After a Democratic challenge successfully tossed two vote-by-mail ballots that had been filled out incorrectly, Rutzler took the lead and was sworn into office.

But in April 2021, after Rutzler had served for four months, Superior Court Judge Arnold Goldman ordered that Rutzler be removed and a special election rematch between Rutzler and Ross be held in June. That special election was then canceled after the office of the attorney general appealed, even though some votes had already been cast.

Democrats have unfairly suggested that Goldman, a Republican, played partisan politics in his rulings.

But appellate court judges did inexplicably drag their feet, eliminating the possibility that the new election could have been held concurrently with the 2021 general.  That led to a special election tomorrow that will cost taxpayers an estimated $80,000.

Republicans have a 5-0 majority on the borough council.  South Toms River has a Democratic mayor, Gregory Handshy, who is up for re-election this year.  Handshy defeated Ross in 2018 by 96 votes in 2018.

In 2021, Republican Oscar Cradle defeated Democratic incumbent Robert Taylor by 204 votes, 502-298, to leave Democrats without any borough council seats.   Councilman Samuel Fennell, who had been elected as a Democrat in 2018, was re-elected as a Republican last year.

Joe Biden carried South Toms River by 80 votes in 2020.  South Toms River and Harvey Cedars were the only Ocean County municipalities that Donald Trump lost that year.  U.S. Senator Cory Booker won the borough by 120 votes, and Rep. Andy Kim carried it by 285 votes.

Rutzler loses those coattails – and the 2020 political environment – in tomorrow’s stand-alone do-over election.

Last year, Republican Jack Ciattarelli won South Toms River by 120 votes against Gov. Phil Murphy.  State Sen. Christopher Connors (R-Lacey) took the borough by 119 votes.

Polls are open in South Toms River from 6 AM to 8 PM on March 15.  Nineteen secure ballot drop boxes throughout Ocean County are also open, although none are in South Toms River.

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