It takes about five minutes to walk from Caldwell Borough Hall to the small parsonage where President Grover Cleveland was born, but in the Essex County suburb of about 8,000 people, it doesn’t take long to walk anywhere.
Caldwell used to be solid Republican – Benjamin Harrison beat Cleveland twice in his home town – but by the 1960s the town had become politically competitive and in 1970, Peter Stewart, a 30-year-old Democrat who would later serve in the State Assembly (he won a general election by 13 votes) and as an Essex County freeholder, became mayor.
Control of local government is up this year, with Democrats defending an open mayoral seat and a 4-2 majority on the borough council. Like small, old towns, Caldwell is going through a series of redevelopment projects that offer varying levels of controversy.
Four years ago, Republican Mayor Ann Dassing was unseated by 224 votes (53%-47%) by Democrat John Kelley. Kelley declined to run for a second term and Democrats have tapped Francis X. Rodgers III, a former councilman and a math teacher, to replace him.
The Republican candidate, Garrett Jones, is a funeral director – undertakers running for office used to be more prevalent than they are today. Jones used to be a business partner at the Codey & Jones Funeral Home with New Jersey’s Mortician-in-Chief, Richard J. Codey, a state senator and former governor
Democrats Frances DePalma-Iozzi and Jeffrey Gates are seeking re-election to the borough council. Republicans need to win one seat to have a split council and two to take control; their candidates are Kris Brown, a former councilman, and Darren Danielowicz.
Republicans flipped two council seats in 2021, with Ricardo Alonso and Barbara Buechner, whose late husband, Peter, served as mayor from 1983 to 1986, ousting Rodgers and Council President Cristine Schmidt. Rodgers lost by 109 votes despite Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy carrying Caldwell by a 64-vote plurality. Codey won Caldwell by 305 votes in his bid for re-election to the State Senate.
Hillary Clinton just narrowly won the borough by 169 votes, 59%-49%, against Donald Trump in 2016, but when presidential year voter turnout jumped by 28% in 2020, Caldwell went for Joe Biden by fifteen percentage points.
Congress heads the ticket this years and Caldwell’s recent election results illustrates how New Jersey’s 11th district has changed in recent years. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Harding) carried Caldwell with 59% in 2014 and 54% in 2016, while Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair), who flipped the district after 34 years of Republican occupancy, won Caldwell with 61% in 2018 and 58% in 2020.
Redistricting moved Caldwell out of Sherrill’s district and into the 10th district, which means that Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-Newark) will head the Democratic ticket this year.
Moving Caldwell out of Sherrill’s district was accidental. Democrats had argued during redistricting that Caldwell and Newark were communities of interest because Caldwell was the home of Essex County College’s suburban campus. But the college building is actually in West Caldwell and Princeton University’s Sam Wang, who served as a staffer to the tiebreaker, never checked and confirmed.
Joseph DiVincenzo, the hugely popular Essex County Executive, won 63% of the vote in Caldwell when he sought re-election to a fifth term in 2018.