The race for township committeeman might feature a fight between two of the most venerable local government leaders in modern Morris Township history.
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Democrat Jeff Grayzel is seeking a fourth non-consecutive term as he takes on Republican Township Committeeman Peter Mancuso in Morris Township in what will be a battle between two political veterans.
The 85-year-old Mancuso, a former mayor, has served on the township committee on and off since 1978.
Grayzel lost local races in Morris Township – then a Republican stronghold – in 2003, 2004 and 2005, before finally winning in 2006 against incumbent Joseph Calvanelli.
He had an 11-vote lead before a recount found a dozen new votes and Calvanelli was declared the winner by one vote. Calvanelli was sworn in the following January.
The Democratic State Chairman, Joseph Cryan, assembled a legal team to challenge the recount results. A judge found some technical deficiencies and ordered a new election in April 2007.
Grayzel’s campaign was managed by Mary Campbell Cruz, who is now chief of staff to Rep. Donald Norcross (D-Camden). He won by 499 votes to become the first Democrat since the 1973 Watergate landslide to win a municipal election in Morris Township.
He lost re-election in 2009 to Republicans Scott Rosenbush and Bruce Sisler, bet returned in 2010 but lost in 2013 by 15 votes. He came within 23 votes of scoring a comeback bid in 2014.
Morris Township Democrats had a contested primary in 2018 when Cathy Wilson, then the municipal chair, denied party support to Grayzel in his bid for a third term.
Running off the line, Grayzel (1,206) and Mark Gyorfy (1,186), a former aide to Rep. Albio Sires, defeated Daniel Falkner (1,156) and Tara Olivio Moore (1,101).
In the general election, Grayzel (5,273) and Gyorfy (5,141) defeated three-term incumbent Bruce Sisler (4,251) and Calvanelli (4,129).
That gave Democrats a 4-1 majority on the township committee and allowed them to control municipal government for the first time. He served as mayor in 2019, the first Democrat to ever hold the post.
In 2020, Grayzel became a candidate for State Senate in a special election for the unexpired term of Anthony R. Bucco (R-Boonton), who died in September 2019.
At the Morris County Democratic convention, Grayzel lost by two votes on the second ballot, 136-134 to Rupande Mehta. Mehta and Grayzel tied on the first ballot, each receiving 105 votes, 37.4 of the vote. Attorney Cliff Dawkins finished third with 71 votes, 25.3% Morris used ranked-choice voting, giving Mehta a second ballot victory over Grayzel, 50.4%-49.6%.
Grayzel gave up his seat last year to run for State Senate. He won the Democratic organization line in the 25th legislative district but lost to incumbent Anthony M. Bucco (R-Boonton) by 11,377 votes, 57.5%-42.5%.
In his Senate race, Grayzel won Morris Township by 419 votes over Bucco, 52%-48%. Gov. Phil Murphy carried Morris Township by 903 votes against Republican Jack Ciattarelli.
Mancuso, a fixture in Morris County politics since he started out protesting the state’s plans to extend Route 24 to Route 287 in the 1970’s, was re-elected in 2019 by just 8 votes against Democrat Bud Ravitz in a race called Gluegate, where some of the uncounted ballots were blamed on faulty glue on the envelopes of provisional ballots.
Mancuso had begun the count with a 15-vote lead over Ravitz.
The 42 uncounted provisional ballots gave Ravitz 23 additional votes, with 18 going to Mancuso. One additional vote was not cast for either.
That reduced Mancuso’s lead to 10.
Ravitz won the uncounted vote-by-mail ballots by a 6-4 margin.
An eleventh VBM ballot where signatures did not match will not be counted. That ballot was cast by a registered Democrat, although that doesn’t mean the vote would have been cast for Ravitz.
A Wall Street stockbroker who commuted to Manhattan every day while maintaining a hectic political schedule back in Convent Station, Mancuso’s anger over the Route 24 extension – and his frustration that local politicians let state officials push them around – led him to challenge incumbent Township Committee members in the 1978 Republican primary.
Mayor Peter O’Hagan, who was Mancuso’s real target, was the top vote-getter. Mancuso finished second, defeating incumbent William Calvin by about 90 votes. A fourth candidate finished far behind.
In the general election, Mancuso finished first – more than 100 votes ahead of O’Hagan – and beat Democrats Dennis Kwasnik and Edward Henry by more than 1,800 votes.
Mancuso became increasingly involved in county politics, serving finance chairman for Dean Gallo’s first two congressional campaigns, and as finance chairman of the Morris County Republican Committee. He served as finance chairman for the New Jersey Republican State Committee in the 1990s.
After nearly nine years in local government – and three stints as mayor – Mancuso took a shot at higher office. He challenged three-term State Sen. John Dorsey (R-Boonton) in the Republican primary.
Mancuso said that Dorsey could have done more to reduce the effect of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Mount Laurel ruling on municipalities, and though Dorsey could have fought harder than he did to stop the Route 24 extension.
Dorsey had intra-party problems. He had unsuccessfully sought to remove C. Richard Kamin as Morris County Republican Chairman and opposed the reappointment of a county prosecutor he didn’t like.
In the primary, Dorsey defeated Mancuso by 2,408 votes, a 60%-40% win. But the primary softened up Dorsey, who won his 25th district seat with just 52.7% against Democrat Gordon MacInnes, a former assemblyman.
When Gallo, fighting prostate cancer, announced in August 1994 that he was dropping his bid for re-election to a sixth term in Congress, Mancuso flirted with a run at a special convention to pick a new GOP candidate. He opted out, clearing the path for Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Harding) to run.
What Mancuso really wanted was a Senate seat.
After MacInnes ousted Dorsey, the sitting Senate Majority Leader, in 1993, Mancuso began to think seriously about running for office again.
But Bucco outmaneuvered him.
After Frelinghuysen won the congressional seat, there was a special election convention for the open 25th district State Assembly seat.
Bucco, who had lost two consecutive freeholder races, defeated Mancuso’s candidate, Morris Township Mayor Richard Watson, by 30 votes, 146 to 116.
As an assemblyman Bucco also set his sights on MacInnes.
So did Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris Township), Sheriff Ed Rochford, former Assemblyman James Barry (R-Harding), and two Morris County Freeholders — James O’Brien and Chris Christie.
In the end, it was a two-man race. Bucco beat Mancuso by 2,009 votes – 56%-44%.
Mancuso went off the grid for another decade before emerging as a candidate for Republican State Chairman in 2007. Incumbent Tom Wilson beat him, 28-10.
Refocusing his career on local politics after a 23-year hiatus, Mancuso, then 73, came back in 2010 and won a seat on the Morris Township Committee. He got to be mayor again and was re-elected twice.